WASHINGTON, July 18, (AP): The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.
The announcements from Sens Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of president Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation reeling. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he will retreat, and try to pass the more straightforward Obamacare repeal bill that Republicans approved while Obama was still in office and certain to veto it. That looks unlikely to succeed now that it could actually become law and unleash wide-ranging effects likely to frighten off senators.
“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a statement that sounded like a death knell to the GOP’s promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. Trump, who had predicted success for McConnell’s repeal-and-replace legislation just hours earlier, urged over Twitter: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” But Republican leaders rejected that clean-repeal approach months ago because it could not pass Congress.
Lee and Moran both said they could not support McConnell’s legislation in the form unveiled last week. They joined GOP Sens Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill on Thursday. McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs,” said Moran.
Lee said, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”
That left McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with his bill. Instead he said he would try to open debate on a repeal-and-replace bill passed by the House, and the first allowed amendment would be on the legislation approved by Congress in 2015 repealing much of Obamacare, with a two-year delay for the repeal to take effect.
Obama was in the White House when that bill passed, and he vetoed it. Few Republicans reckoned then with the reality of sending the bill to a president of their party who might actually sign it and invite all the consequences, including casting tens of millions off the rolls of the insured and off of Medicaid. This year’s debate has already shown Republicans are highly wary of any such move, and a similar straightforward repeal was rejected early on. Monday night’s retreat was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of his repeal-and-replace bill last month when defeat became inevitable.
Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night’s development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been the GOP’s trademark issue for seven years, ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans won the White House and full control of Congress in large part on the basis of their promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but have struggled to overcome their deep internal divisions and deliver on those promises.
The implosion of the Senate Republican healthcare bill leaves a divided GOP with its flagship legislative priority in tatters and confronts a wounded Trump and congressional leaders with dicey decisions about addressing their perhaps unattainable seven-year-old promise of repealing president Barack Obama’s law.
It was the second stinging setback on the issue in three weeks for McConnell, whose reputation as a legislative mastermind has been marred as he’s failed to unite his chamber’s Republicans behind a health overhaul package that’s highlighted jagged divides between conservatives and moderates. In late June, he abandoned an initial package after he lacked enough GOP support to pass.
The episode has also been jarring for Trump, whose intermittent lobbying and nebulous, often contradictory descriptions of what he’s wanted have shown he has limited clout with senators. That despite a determination by Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, to demonstrate that a GOP running the White House and Congress can govern effectively.
Now, McConnell said, the Senate would vote on a measure the GOP-run Congress approved in 2015, only to be vetoed by Obama — a bill repealing much of Obama’s statute, with a two-year delay designed to give lawmakers time to enact a replacement. Trump embraced that idea last month after an initial version of McConnell’s bill collapsed due under Republican divisions, and did so again late Monday.
But the prospects for approving a clean repeal bill followed by work on replacement legislation, even with Trump ready to sign it, seemed shaky. Trump and party leaders had started this year embracing that strategy, only to abandon it when it seemed incapable of passing Congress, with many Republicans worried it would cause insurance market and political chaos because of uncertainty that they would approve substitute legislation.
McConnell’s failed bill would have left 22 million uninsured by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that many Republicans found unpalatable. But the vetoed 2015 measure would be even worse, the budget office said last January, producing 32 million additional uninsured people by 2026 — figures that seemed likely to drive a stake into that bill’s prospects for passing Congress.
That would seem to leave McConnell with an option he described last month — negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY. That would likely be on a narrower package aimed more at keeping insurers in difficult marketplaces they’re either abandoning or imposing rapidly growing premiums.
“The core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said in a statement. He said Republicans “should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our healthcare system.”
Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s bill would repeal Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminated many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.