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Senate Republicans halt health care overhaul as Cruz maintains opposition

The U.S. Senate postponed taking up a major overhaul of the health care system as several Republicans and all of the chamber's Democrats maintained opposition. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he had reservations about "the current draft."

The U.S. Capitol on March 21, 2017.

WASHINGTON – After days of arm-twisting, Senate Republican leaders on Tuesday essentially conceded that they had not secured the votes to move forward on a massive overhaul of the American health care system and would pick up the issue again in July. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky emerged with the updated plans from a lunch with other GOP senators, along with the news that the chamber's Republicans were headed to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump.

Both U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were at the lunch, as were several senior advisers to the president. 

Cruz has yet to back the Senate GOP bill but publicly maintains he is open to supporting the effort. He is part of a bloc of senators who are withholding support for the bill, asking for changes to move the legislation in a more conservative direction. 

Cruz has postured himself as a key dealmaker in the process, hosting a working group in his conference room. 

"My central focus from day one has been the need to lower premiums, to make health insurance more affordable for families who are struggling," he told reporters after the lunch.

"There's not enough in the current draft to do that, but there are a number of common sense reforms that the working group has discussed for months that I believe will ultimately be reflected in the final draft, and when they are, I think we will have a bill that can pass." 

"We're not there yet, but I believe we can get there," he added. 

Earlier this month, McConnell spearheaded an effort to overhaul former President Obama's 2010 health care law. The House passed a similar bill in early May, but at various points the GOP campaign to unwind that law has appeared stalled only to be resurrected.

Democrats in both chambers are uniformly opposed to the GOP health care proposals. There are 52 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, at least 50 of which need to support the bill in order for it to pass, assuming Vice President Mike Pence casts the tiebreaking vote in their favor.

Among those expressing doubts about the current bill are Republicans from states that heavily rely on Medicaid and regions dealing with opioid epidemics. The funding of Planned Parenthood is also another sticking point.

McConnell fought hard to avoid sending senators to their home states without a passed bill this weekend. The fear was that indecisive senators could be firmly swayed against the measure by raucous constituent meetings over the Fourth of July holiday week.

Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, is at the center of the vote-counting process and was bullish on the bill's prospects only hours before.

"Well, I expect to have the support to get it done," Cornyn told ABC News. "And yes, we will vote this week."

But after the lunch, he changed his tone.

"It's a conversation, and we haven't finished our conversation," he said as he entered a Capitol elevator.

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Health care Federal health reform John Cornyn Ted Cruz