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White House wants health care done before summer recess

Alex Brandon / AP

White House Legislative Affairs director Marc Short laid out the administration's legislative timeline Monday night, saying he expects Republicans to pass healthcare and the 2018 budget this summer so the fall can be focused on tax reform. Short said the administration still wants an infrastructure bill this year, but seemed wary about putting a firm timeline on that given the crowded agenda ahead.

Key takeaways:

  • Short acknowledged healthcare had become a purely partisan issue but said the administration was still hopeful of getting Democrats to support tax reform, and said the President has always believed infrastructure must be bipartisan.
  • He said the White House wants tax reform to be revenue neutral.
  • He did not answer the question of where the White House stands on the debt ceiling — indicating it was still a live debate. (Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has pushed for a "clean" debt ceiling bill, meaning it's not tied to other demands, whereas Budget Director Mick Mulvaney wants to tie spending cuts to the bill to force changes.)

Healthcare by the August recess:

  • Short was especially aggressive on healthcare reform. Asked about the timeline for passage he said "we're looking for before they [Congress] adjourn for August recess."
  • He said Obamacare was in a state of crisis with insurers dropping out and skyrocketing premiums — citing 176% premium increases on average in North Carolina — and said both of those factors would intensify the activity in June and July.
  • Asked how close he thought the Senate was to getting its own healthcare bill, Short said "there's been a lot of discussions with staff...significant progress over the recess...I think that written text is actually pretty far along."

The other side: Republican Senators have been openly saying that they doubt healthcare can get done this year. My colleague David Nather wrote an item this morning (headline: "Pessimism Update") with quotes from Senators Jeff Flake and Richard Burr in particular voicing their doubts about the White House's timetable. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham have also expressed skepticism about healthcare's prospects in the Senate.

Up next: President Trump will host a meeting Tuesday with Republican House and Senate members to his agenda, with a focus on healthcare and tax reform.

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