Problem is getting 51 votes to proceed……

Senate Republican leaders are moving ahead with an ObamaCare repeal package, cautiously optimistic they have the 51 votes needed to pass it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to take a major stride toward winning over conservatives Monday evening by floating a proposal to strengthen a House-passed repeal bill by phasing out the expansion of Medicaid over two years.

A Senate GOP leadership aide said the bill would be strengthened in other ways but declined to reveal specifics.

Senate conservatives have been told the bill will repeal as much of ObamaCare as possible under the special budgetary rules known as reconciliation, implying that leaders want to repeal all of the law’s tax increases as well as subsidies for people who buy insurance through government-run heath exchanges.

Members of the GOP leadership team expressed confidence Monday that they would send the package to President Obama’s desk.

“I think we’ve found a pretty good spot so I’m optimistic,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas). “We are going to do more, repeal more of ObamaCare.

“It’s bigger and better,” he added.

“I think when push comes to shove we’ll be there,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican conference, said of the 51 votes McConnell needs to pass the package under an expedited process known as reconciliation.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), an influential conservative who vowed to oppose the House-passed ObamaCare repeal package, said he was “very encouraged.”

McConnell will bring the House package straight to the floor and offer a substitute amendment to address procedural problems created by the so-called Byrd Rule. The rule is a litmus test for what can pass the Senate under reconciliation with simple majorities instead of 60 votes, as is usually required of controversial legislation.

Another amendment will have to be considered to address Medicaid expansion, which the House bill left intact.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who are running for president, along with Lee, panned the House bill for not going far enough — raising the threat that McConnell might fall short of the 51 votes needed to pass a repeal package.

Cruz and Rubio were on the campaign trail and did not attend the meeting.

Mainstream and moderate Republicans have balked at undoing the Medicaid expansion, which 30 states have embraced. Some of those concerns have been eased by a compromise proposal to reverse the expansion after a two-year transition period.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who initially opposed reversing Medicaid expansion — noting it has expanded coverage to 160,000 people in her home state — said Monday evening she felt reassured.

“We feel pretty good,” she said. “It’s a two-year transitional period to move to a replacement vehicle so we can come up with a better plan.”

Another GOP senator representing a state thinking about adopting the Medicaid expansion, who requested anonymity, said he would first check with his local governor before making a decision on how to vote.