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Rick Scott, health care agenda martyr

Rick Scott talks to reporters at the Capitol

Scott talks with reporters at the Capitol Wednesday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rick Scott's failed leadership challenge to Mitch McConnell has opened up a larger debate among GOP senators around whether the party needs more of an agenda, especially on health care.

Why it matters: The debate just before McConnell was re-elected as Senate Republican leader showed us who's agitating for a health care agenda — which means it's worth watching their next moves.

Some of the key ones to watch:

  • Mike Braun, who supported Scott.
  • Ron Johnson, who voted for Scott.
  • Bill Cassidy, who supported McConnell. (He wants to talk up a health agenda, but has different ideas than Scott.)

What they're saying: "I told Leader McConnell this has been the healthiest enterprise since I've been here in terms of caucus discussion," Braun told me after the vote.

  • "Rick in my mind brought it out to where we made it a discussion. We all knew what the outcome was going to be, but we had the healthiest conversation since I've been here."
  • "We didn't want Obamacare, but what did we offer? Nothing," Braun said of the GOP's health care problem.

The catch: It's one thing to say the GOP needs a health care agenda. It's very different to actually agree on one.

  • Scott's plan to sunset all federal legislation every five years didn't win a lot of support among Senate Republicans and opened the GOP up to Democratic attacks, due to the implication that Social Security and Medicare would be included (even though he didn't specifically mention them).
  • Even McConnell said the Senate Republican agenda would never include a bill that "sunsets Social Security and Medicare after five years."
  • Cassidy said Republicans should just advertise health care accomplishments the GOP worked on, like ending surprise medical bills or pharmacy gag clauses. "That's where I think we need to be as a party," he said.
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer pointed out the difficulty on agreeing on agenda items, while adding that Scott's backers made their point heard in the meeting about needing a clearer policy agenda.
  • McConnell, for his part, in a post-meeting press conference, noted that only five senators are needed to convene a conference meeting to discuss any issue. "I think that'll be used more often; I certainly welcome it," he said.

The bottom line: Scott's challenge didn't get Senate Republicans closer to a health care consensus, but it did show there's frustration that shouldn't be ignored.

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