GOP health care bill loses sup­port

Health leg­is­la­tion dealt blow by Kan., Utah law­mak­ers

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro and Noam N. Levey Wash­ing­ton Bureau lisa.mas­caro@la­times.com

Two more Repub­li­can sen­a­tors op­pose their party’s health care bill, say­ing they can­not sup­port the leg­is­la­tion.

WASH­ING­TON — Repub­li­can Sens. Jerry Mo­ran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah said Mon­day they will op­pose the Repub­li­can health care bill, deal­ing a blow to GOP lead­ers’ hopes of re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s leg­is­la­tion.

The two sen­a­tors is­sued sep­a­rate state­ments late Mon­day say­ing they can’t sup­port the leg­is­la­tion. They join two other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, Su­san Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, in op­po­si­tion.

With just a 52-48 ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, Lee and Mo­ran’s re­sis­tance means Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell can­not move ahead on the bill.

Lee said he couldn’t sup­port the bill be­cause it doesn’t re­peal all of the Oba­macare taxes and doesn’t go far enough to lower pre­mi­ums.

Mo­ran said, “We should not put our stamp of ap­proval on bad pol­icy.”

The next steps, if any, were not im­me­di­ately clear.

The news came as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ramped up his ef­forts to sway GOP sen­a­tors af­ter be­ing largely ab­sent from the leg­isla­tive process in re­cent weeks.

Trump called way­ward Repub­li­can sen­a­tors over week­end and hosted oth­ers Mon­day evening at White House.

De­spite a rocky re­la­tion­ship, he even sent best wishes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose sud­den surgery forced a de­lay in a vote on the Se­nate bill. The pres­i­dent joked that he missed McCain’s “crusty voice” in the Capi­tol.

“We hope John McCain gets bet­ter very soon be­cause we miss him,” Trump said at the White House.

More of­ten than not, ex­tra time only serves to doom con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion, which is why GOP lead­ers have tried to rush the process with self-im­posed dead­lines.

Sen­a­tors re­turned to work Mon­day to an un­cer­tain out­look as McCon­nell, R-Ky., promised a vote would come as soon as McCain re­turns. The Ari­zona se­na­tor is re­cov­er­ing from surgery to re­move a blood clot over an eye.

“Look, we need to tackle this prob­lem,” McCon­nell said of the ACA, known as Oba­macare, as he opened the Se­nate on Mon­day.

Even be­fore the de­lay, it was un­clear whether McCon­nell would be able to mar­shal the sup­port needed from his 52-seat ma­jor­ity to ad­vance the bill, the Bet­ter Care Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Act.

Sev­eral Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have yet to com­mit to the leg­is­la­tion, which has drawn scant pub­lic or po­lit­i­cal sup­port.

Trump had not vis­i­bly played a role in ral­ly­ing sup­port for the Se­nate leg­is­la­tion as he did when a a sim­i­lar bill was passed in the House.

But over the week­end, the pres­i­dent called con­ser­va­tives to sway their vote, in­clud­ing Lee of Utah.

The next pres­sure point may come when the non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­leases its lat­est as­sess­ment of the leg­is­la­tion, which was ex­pected Mon­day, but also de­layed. A CBO re­port of the orig­i­nal Se­nate bill es­ti­mated 22 mil­lion more Amer­i­cans would lack health cov­er­age by 2026, draw­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Repub­li­cans to use the de­lay to hold pub­lic hear­ings with ex­perts to pro­duce leg­is­la­tion that Democrats could also sup­port.

“When you don’t have hear­ings, when you try to hide a bill, it usu­ally re­sults in poor leg­is­la­tion. That’s what’s hap­pen­ing now,” Schumer said. “A bill done be­hind closed doors, a hand­ful of sen­a­tors, even Repub­li­cans sen­a­tors didn’t know what they were putting to­gether. It doesn’t work.”

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor pa­tient or­ga­ni­za­tion, physi­cian and hospi­tal group, and con­sumer ad­vo­cate has de­nounced the Se­nate bill.

The prob­lem McCon­nell faces is in bridg­ing the di­vide be­tween con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors, who com­plain the bill does not go far enough in gut­ting Oba­macare, and cen­trists who re­main wor­ried about the steep cuts to Med­i­caid.

An amend­ment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was sup­posed to bring way­ward con­ser­va­tives on board, but raised fresh con­cerns that it goes too far in elim­i­nat­ing the ACA’s pro­tec­tions for Amer­i­cans with pre-ex­isit­ing health con­di­tions.

Lee, a con­ser­va­tive Cruz ally, wants an even tougher ver­sion of Cruz’s amend­ment, and made those con­cerns clear in re­cent talks with the White House. The pres­i­dent en­cour­aged the Utah se­na­tor to try to get the changes he was seek­ing into the bill as an amend­ment.

But sen­a­tors are skep­ti­cal their amend­ments will be in the fi­nal ver­sion.

Any fur­ther changes to please con­ser­va­tives are likely to do lit­tle to help sen­a­tors con­cerned about the Med­i­caid cuts, in­clud­ing Sen. Dean Heller in Ne­vada, where as many as 200,000 peo­ple could lose cov­er­age.

Mean­while, protesters con­tinue to de­scend on the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton, with ral­lies planned this week fea­tur­ing pa­tients who stand to lose cov­er­age.

At the same time, na­tional polls show the Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion is in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar.

Re­tired physi­cian Jay Brock joins oth­ers protest­ing the GOP health care bill Mon­day out­side the of­fice of Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, right.

MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP PHOTOS

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