WASHINGTON (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 health care legislation reeling. Next steps, if any, were not immediately clear.
Trump, who had predicted success for the legislation just hours earlier, responded with a tweet urging: “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 Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislation in its current form. 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 last Thursday.
McConnell is now at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate and may have to go back to the drawing board or even begin to negotiate with Democrats, a prospect he’s threatened but resisted so far. Or he could abandon the health care effort, which has proven more difficult than many Republicans envisioned after campaigning on the issue for years, and move on to tax legislation, a bigger Trump priority to begin with.
McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one,” 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.”
It was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of the 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.
The Senate bill, like an earlier version that barely passed the House, eliminated mandates and taxes under Obamacare, and unraveled an expansion of the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled. But for conservatives like Lee and Paul it didn’t go far enough in delivering on Republican Party promises to undo Obama’s law, while moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.
McConnell’s latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs.
His efforts did not achieve the intended result.
There was no immediate reaction from McConnell’s office. But Democrats could barely contain their glee.
“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, 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 health care system.”
Prior to the stunning announcements from Lee and Moran, the GOP bill stood on the knife’s edge, with zero votes to spare but not dead yet. It was apparent that no GOP senator wanted to be the third to announce opposition and become responsible for killing the bill, so the news from Lee and Moran came simultaneously.
It arrived as about a half-dozen senators were at the White House meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the next steps in the GOP effort to ensure passage of the bill.
There are at least a half-dozen or so others who are undecided, so it’s quite likely that more “no” votes will be announced in the hours and days ahead.
In a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell could lose only two senators and still prevail on a procedural vote to open debate on the bill. He had hoped to hold that vote this week, but Sen. John McCain’s recovery following surgery in Arizona had already pushed back that timeframe.
Earlier this month, Moran faced tough questions from constituents at a town hall in tiny Palco, Kansas, about the impact of the GOP bill. About 150 people tried to squeeze into a community center room and many applauded his opposition to the initial health care bill. The session underscored the evolving position of many Americans to government-run health care, with loud approval for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“I will choose country over party,” Moran told the town hall. “I will choose Kansans over party.”