GOP Senate jettisons effort on health bill
Will instead seek to repeal, replace later, McConnell says
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abandoned efforts to pass a replacement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, saying late Monday that he will instead seek a vote on a simple repeal — delayed by two years to give lawmakers time to seek a replacement.
The Republican leader made the announcement in a statement that came a few hours after two Republican senators dealt a blow to the replacement bill unveiled Thursday. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah joined two other senators in opposing the legislation, meaning McConnell lacked the votes to move ahead.
The Kentucky Republican said, “regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful.”
McConnell said that in the coming days, the Senate will consider the Housepassed bill, with the first order of business a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay.
Moran and Lee had issued separate statements Monday saying they can’t support the legislation in its current form. They join Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, in opposition.
“There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it,” Moran said in a statement. “This closed-door process
unfortunately has yielded” the Senate repeal bill, which he asserted “failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care’s rising costs.”
Moran said, “We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy.”
In his own statement, Lee said of the bill, “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.”
By defecting together, Moran and Lee ensured that no one senator would be the definitive “no” vote.
Moran and Lee’s opposition threw the effort to pass health care legislation into turmoil, with additional Republicans weighing in on Twitter about a flawed process that must take a new direction. President Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for a “new approach” while Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted, “Time for full repeal.” White House aides, meanwhile, said they still planned to press ahead.
Another Republican senator had also signaled Monday that he might not support the bill.
Sen. Ron Johnson said he spoke with colleagues and confirmed that McConnell has said future Medicaid cuts planned by the health care measure will “never happen.”
Johnson told reporters that such comments are “troubling” and “a real breach of trust.”
He said he’s no longer urging colleagues to vote to begin debate on the measure.
The Senate Democratic leader, Charles Schumer of New York, responded to the announcements by urging his Republican colleagues to begin anew and, this time, to undertake a bipartisan effort.
“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said. “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.”
McConnell has now fallen short twice in recent weeks in efforts to roll out a repeal bill and keep his conference together for it. He first wanted to hold a vote in late June, only to reverse course after running into opposition.
House Republicans in competitive districts who supported their version of the bill will now have to explain themselves — and Democrats are eager to pounce.
“Make no mistake, Paul Ryan can’t turn back time and undo the damaging vote he imposed on his conference,” said Meredith Kelly, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “House Republicans all own a bill that would strip health care from 23 million Americans and raise costs for millions more, and it will haunt them in 2018.”
AGENDA IN FLUX
The Republican agenda was already in a state of flux after GOP leaders scrapped their plans to vote on the health care overhaul this week because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had to have surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye that involved opening his skull.
Democrats had been pressuring Republicans to use the delay in the Senate to hold public hearings on the GOP health care bill. All 48 members of the Democratic caucus oppose the legislation.
“This will allow members to hear unfiltered and unbiased analysis of how the bill will affect their states and the health and financial security of the constituents they represent, including the impact of Medicaid cuts to vulnerable populations like children, people with disabilities, and people with pre-existing conditions,” Schumer and two other leading Democratic senators wrote earlier Monday in a letter to McConnell and a pair of GOP committee chairmen.
The letter also asked that GOP leaders not move ahead with the bill until the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office releases a “complete score” on it. The office had been expected to release its findings as soon as Monday, but a GOP aide said that would not happen. The aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said a release later this week was possible but not certain.
The office has been projecting what the bill would do to insurance coverage levels, premium costs and the federal budget deficit. Having an unfavorable report in public for an extended period of time with an uncertain date for a vote would fuel critics’ arguments against the bill, likely making it more difficult for McConnell to round up votes for it.
A report on an earlier version of the legislation projected that it would result in 22 million fewer Americans with insurance by 2026 compared with the current law. It predicted that measure would reduce the budget deficit by $321 billion over the same period. On average, premiums would rise, then fall under the measure, the budget office projected.
Neither a McConnell spokesman nor the Congressional Budget Office immediately responded to requests for comment on when the report was expected and why it would not be released Monday.
White House officials have been seeking to cast doubt on the findings from the budget office and other independent analyses of the bill. But some key Republicans responded to their pitch with skepticism.
Several key GOP senators have voiced concerns about the measure’s long-term federal spending cuts to Medicaid. Others have worried the bill does not go far enough in overhauling the Affordable Care Act.
At the same time, early indications are that young adults, considered key to the success of any health plan, are proving to be a tough sell if the mandatory insurance coverage portion of the 2010 health law is dropped.
Insurers need young and healthy enrollees to buy insurance because they keep premiums down for everyone. The current law attempts to do that by mandating that everyone get coverage. The Republican plan replaces that mandate with penalties for those who let coverage lapse, and aims to entice young adults by allowing insurance companies to sell bare-bones coverage that could be cheaper.
But cheap isn’t free, which turns off people like Julian Senn-Raemont, a 24-year-old musician.
Other young adults worry that opening the door to these bare-bones plans will make the more comprehensive coverage they have now too expensive or even unavailable.
In Houston, 29-year-old Jimmieka Mills pays $15 a month for a government-subsidized health plan. She said she fears that Congress will weaken the health law’s guarantees of free preventive care, so she made an appointment to get a birth control implant that will last for years.
Capitol Hill police officers arrest a group protesting the Republican health care bill outside the offices of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., in Washington on Monday.