GOP health care bill loses support
Health legislation dealt blow by Kan., Utah lawmakers
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.