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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Senate Republicans to pass a "generous" replacement program for Obamacare, as the Senate struggled to produce an alternative to the healthcare law.
Capitol Hill sources who asked not to be named said Trump described the version of the legislation that passed the House last month as "mean." That House bill was widely criticized for letting states seek waivers from insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Trump discussed the healthcare bill at a White House lunch he hosted for Republican senators in a bid to help the lawmakers find common ground to move forward with healthcare reform legislation this summer.
The White House declined to comment on private conversations between Trump and lawmakers.
During the portion of the lunch open to reporters, Trump told the lawmakers their healthcare bill would need to be "generous" and "kind."
"That may be adding additional money into it," he said, without offering details on how much money might be needed or how it might be used.
Trump stepped up pressure for the repeal with a tweet Tuesday morning declaring that the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, "is in a death spiral." He cited the government's announcement Monday that some 2 million people who signed up for Obamacare have dropped out this year.
Although Trump's Republican Party has a majority in both houses of Congress, Trump blamed "obstructionist" Democrats for the lack of progress in repealing President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.
Senator John Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, who attended the lunch meeting, said Trump was open to suggestions that some federal cost-sharing payments to health insurers under Obamacare continue in the near term but that the president did not make any definite pronouncements on that issue.
Those payments help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income Americans. Trump has said he might consider withholding them but insurers say that would wreak havoc in the markets.
Thune also said Trump did not give any deadlines to the senators on passing the bill.
"I hope that we can stay on schedule to have floor action before the Fourth of July break," Thune said.
The House of Representatives narrowly approved its version of repeal last month but Senate Republicans have been unable to coalesce around their own version of a bill, with moderates and conservatives pushing in different directions in meetings behind closed doors.
The senators Trump invited to lunch included Republicans from both ideological camps. Moderates Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were on the list as well as conservatives Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said senators are closer to bringing up a proposal and other Republicans have predicted for some time that a bill would be ready for a vote before the August recess.
Senate aides said the Senate bill was not expected to touch insurance protections that are included in Obamacare for people with pre-existing medical conditions, after the controversy over the House bill that would let states seek waivers from those protections.
In states with such waivers, people with pre-existing conditions could still get coverage but they would not be shielded against potentially higher costs.
Another senator at the lunch, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, said after the meeting that there still was a lot of work to do before legislation can be unveiled.
"The total bill hasn't been resolved," he said.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish