GOP as­signs blame af­ter loss

In­ter­nal di­vi­sions re­main af­ter Se­nate re­jects health bill

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Hours af­ter their seven-year pledge to dis­man­tle the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act hur­tled off the rails in the Se­nate, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers pointed fin­gers at their own Fri­day for let­ting their vot­ers down.

Just af­ter mid­night, the GOP- run Se­nate voted 51- 49 to re­ject Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s last-ditch at­tempt to sus­tain their drive to dis­man­tle Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care over­haul with a trimmed-down bill. The vote, which con­cluded shortly be­fore 2 a.m. East­ern time, was a de­feat for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and McCon­nell, R-Ky., who have made up­root­ing the statute a top pri­or­ity.

“They should have ap­proved health care last night,” Trump said Fri­day dur­ing a speech in Brent­wood, N.Y. “But you can’t have ev­ery­thing,” he added.

Se­nate Democrats were joined in op­po­si­tion by three Repub­li­cans — Maine’s Su­san Collins,

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ari­zona’s John Mc­Cain. The 80-year-old Mc­Cain, just di­ag­nosed with brain can­cer, had re­turned to the Capi­tol three days ear­lier to pro­vide a vote that tem­po­rar­ily kept the mea­sure alive, only to de­liver the coup de grace Fri­day.

“3 Repub­li­cans and 48 Democrats let the Amer­i­can peo­ple down,” Trump tweeted Fri­day. He tweeted later that the Se­nate needed a rules change to “im­me­di­ately go to a 51 vote ma­jor­ity, not sense­less 60,” even though on the cru­cial vote a sim­ple ma­jor­ity of 51 votes, in­clud­ing a tie-breaker by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, was all that was needed.

“Hello, he only needed 51 in the health care bill and couldn’t do it,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., re­minded reporters.

Schumer, as well as House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, urged Repub­li­cans to aban­don the push for a re­peal and join them in patch­ing up prob­lems in the ex­ist­ing health law.

“Right now we go for­ward rec­og­niz­ing the value of the Af­ford­able Care Act,” Pelosi told reporters Fri­day. “But we also know that there are up­dates and im­prove­ments we need to make.”

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans, stunned by Fri­day’s ac­tion, lodged veiled crit­i­cism of Collins, Mc­Cain and Murkowski.

“I would never crit­i­cize any­body’s votes, but I’m very dis­ap­pointed,” said Sen. David Per­due, R-Ga., a close Trump ally. “I think the self-in­ter­est is still alive in the Se­nate. I think it’s time to put that aside and put the na­tional in­ter­ests first.”

Per­due said he was en­cour­aged to hear Schumer say early Fri­day that the Af­ford­able Care Act is in need of se­ri­ous changes, com­ments that com­pelled him to be­gin talking to Democrats about po­ten­tial com­pro­mises.

Fri­day morn­ing, House lead­ers re­sorted to singer Gor­don Light­foot to point fin­gers. They opened a House GOP meet­ing by play­ing The Wreck of the Ed­mund Fitzger­ald, a bal­lad about the 1975 sink­ing of a freighter in Lake Su­pe­rior. Law­mak­ers said lead­ers as­sured them it was meant as a ref­er­ence to the Se­nate’s flop.

Ear­lier in the week, de­fec­tions sank two broad GOP ef­forts in the Se­nate to scrap the 2010 law. One would have erased Obama’s statute and re­placed it with a more con­stricted govern­ment health care role, and the other would have an­nulled the law and given Congress two years to re­place it.

The mea­sure that fell Fri­day was nar­rower and in­cluded a re­peal of Obama’s tax penal­ties on peo­ple who don’t buy poli­cies and on em­ploy­ers who don’t of­fer cov­er­age to work­ers.

But the week’s set­backs high­lighted how, de­spite years of try­ing, GOP lead­ers haven’t re­solved in­ter­nal bat­tles be­tween con­ser­va­tives seek­ing to erase Obama’s law and mod­er­ates leery of toss­ing mil­lions of vot­ers off of cov­er­age.

The House ap­proved its health care mea­sure in May, af­ter its own tribu­la­tions.

In a state­ment, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., point­edly said “the House de­liv­ered a bill.” He added, “I en­cour­age the Se­nate to con­tinue work­ing to­ward a real so­lu­tion that keeps our prom­ise.”

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who is run­ning for a Se­nate seat, faulted McCon­nell for not craft­ing a plan that could pass. He said that if McCon­nell aban­dons the health care drive, “he should re­sign from lead­er­ship.”

One mod­er­ate Repub­li­can said Trump shared re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“One of the fail­ures was the pres­i­dent never laid out a plan or his core prin­ci­ples and never sold them to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Rep. Char­lie Dent, R-Pa. “Out­sourced the whole is­sue to Congress.”

Other rep­re­sen­ta­tives urged the Se­nate not to give up.

“They’ve got to keep vot­ing,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who went on to sug­gest that Se­nate Repub­li­cans who stood in the way of the re­peal should be re­moved at the bal­lot box.

“I think the vot­ers need to do a lit­tle more sort­ing of the peo­ple who are serv­ing up here,” he said.

BI­PAR­TI­SAN CALL

Sen­a­tors in both par­ties said they were ready to quickly be­gin work on a new plan.

“Maybe this had to hap­pen to ac­tu­ally be­gin to have a con­ver­sa­tion,” said Sen. Bill Cas­sidy, R-La., who had tried and failed to bro­ker a pre­vi­ous bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise.

Sen. La­mar Alexan­der, R-Tenn., chair­man of the Se­nate Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee that un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances would play a cen­tral role in craft­ing a new health care bill, said Fri­day’s set­back “leaves an ur­gent prob­lem that I am com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing.”

In state­ments Fri­day, Mc­Cain said the Se­nate bill didn’t lower costs or im­prove care and called the cham­ber’s in­abil­ity to craft wide-rang­ing leg­is­la­tion “in­ex­cus­able.” He said Democrats and Repub­li­cans should write a bill to­gether and “stop the po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship.”

Schumer, too, said he hoped the two par­ties could “work to­gether to make the sys­tem bet­ter” by sta­bi­liz­ing mar­ket­places.

But many con­ser­va­tives op­pose such pay­ments and con­sider them in­sur­ance in­dus­try bailouts, rais­ing ques­tions about whether Congress could ap­prove such a pack­age.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., also said Congress needs “to turn the page and sta­bi­lize the ex­changes.” He said Democrats will push Congress to re­quire the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­force the cur­rent in­di­vid­ual and em­ployer man­dates and fully fund cur­rent cost-shar­ing ar­range­ments.

The fed­eral govern­ment is sched­uled to spend roughly $7 bil­lion this year, and $10 bil­lion in 2018, to help pay for con­sumers’ out-of-pocket health costs, but ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have not in­di­cated if they will sup­ply the funds af­ter the end of this month.

“The gov­er­nors have to speak out on this; they have been speak­ing out, and we need to lis­ten,” added Carper, a for­mer gover­nor. “The in­sur­ance com­pa­nies them­selves, too.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said bi­par­ti­san talks, should they oc­cur, ought to also in­clude plans to re­duce the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs.

“That is a steep lift, with the way pharma in­flu­ences leg­is­la­tion in this town, but maybe this is the open­ing that we need,” she said.

McCon­nell said it was time for Democrats “to tell us what they have in mind.” Say­ing he was backed by most Repub­li­cans, he added, “Bail­ing out in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, with no thought of any kind of re­form, is not some­thing I want to be part of.”

Still, other GOP sen­a­tors sig­naled they will op­pose bi­par­ti­san talks.

“I don’t think the Democrats have any in­ter­est in do­ing any­thing pro­duc­tive” on health care, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“Repub­li­can sen­a­tors are go­ing to go home. They’re go­ing to hear from their con­stituents, and I don’t ex­pect the re­sponse to be muted,” Cruz added.

Trump, mean­while, re­it­er­ated his call to “let Oba­macare im­plode.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Alan Fram, Er­ica Werner, Ri­cardo Alonso-Zal­divar and Stephen Oh­lemacher of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Matt Fle­gen­heimer of The New York Times; and by Ed O’Keefe, Juliet Eilperin, Sean Sul­li­van, Kelsey Snell and Paul Kane of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

AP/CLIFF OWEN

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ariz., is pur­sued by reporters Fri­day on Capi­tol Hill af­ter cast­ing a no vote on a mea­sure to re­peal parts of the 2010 health care law.

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer said Fri­day about health care that he hoped the two par­ties could “work to­gether to make the sys­tem bet­ter” by sta­bi­liz­ing mar­ket­places.

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