“Let Oba­macare fail,” Trump de­clares as GOP plan col­lapses

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica Werner and Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON» Pres­i­dent Donald Trump de­clared Tues­day it’s time to “let Oba­macare fail” af­ter the lat­est GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Se­nate, a stun­ning fail­ure for the pres­i­dent, Repub­li­can leader Mitch McCon­nell and a party that has vowed for years to abol­ish the law.

In a head-spin­ning se­ries of de­vel­op­ments, rank-and-file Repub­li­can sen­a­tors turned on McCon­nell and Trump for the third time in a row, deny­ing the votes to move for­ward with a plan for a straight-up re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act. This time, it was three GOP women — Su­san Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia — who de­liv­ered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McCon­nell’s ini­tial all-male work­ing group on health care.

McCon­nell, who could af­ford to lose only two votes in the nar­rowly di­vided Se­nate, had turned to the re­peal-only bill

af­ter his ear­lier re­peal-an­dreplace mea­sure was re­jected Mon­day. That had fol­lowed the fail­ure of an ear­lier ver­sion of the bill last month.

The suc­ces­sive de­feats made clear that de­spite seven years of prom­ises to re­peal for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, Repub­li­cans ap­par­ently can­not de­liver. None­the­less, McCon­nell in­sisted he would move for­ward with a vote on his mea­sure to re­peal the law, ef­fec­tive in two years, with a prom­ise to work — along with Democrats — to re­place it in the mean­time.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McCon­nell an­nounced late Tues­day. It ap­pears doomed to fail, but GOP lead­ers want to put law­mak­ers on record on the is­sue and move on.

At the White House, Trump ap­peared to rec­og­nize de­feat, at least for the mo­ment, while in­sist­ing he bore none of the blame.

“I think we’re prob­a­bly in that po­si­tion where we’ll just let Oba­macare fail,” the pres­i­dent said. “We’re not go­ing to own it. I’m not go­ing to own it. I can tell you that the Repub­li­cans are not go­ing to own it. We’ll let Oba­macare fail and then the Democrats are go­ing to come to us, and they’re go­ing to say, ‘How do we fix it?’ ”

White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said Tues­day night that all GOP sen­a­tors have been in­vited to the White House on Wed­nes­day for lunch to dis­cuss the way for­ward on health care.

De­spite the cur­rent law’s prob­lems, most health care ex­perts do not be­lieve it is at im­me­di­ate risk of outright fail­ure, and Demo­cratic co­op­er­a­tion to ad­just the law is far from as­sured.

Nor does it ap­pear likely that Repub­li­cans can es­cape own­ing the prob­lems with the law and the health care sys­tem over­all, now that they con­trol the House, Se­nate and White House, partly on the strength of cam­paign­ing against the law.

“They seem to have this no­tion that they can be a ma­jor­ity party and have con­trol of the White House and not be re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing down the health care sys­tem,” said Demo­cratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illi­nois. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Asked how he would jus­tify the GOP’s fail­ure on health care to vot­ers, McCon­nell re­sponded: “Well, we have a new Supreme Court jus­tice” — sug­gest­ing in­ac­tion on health care would be for­given be­cause of that suc­cess, along with some reg­u­la­tory roll­backs.

As the day be­gan Tues­day, McCon­nell was hunt­ing for votes to open de­bate on a re­vived ver­sion of leg­is­la­tion Congress sent to Obama’s desk in 2015 that would have re­pealed ma­jor por­tions of Oba­macare, with a two-year de­lay built in. He had turned to that ap­proach af­ter get­ting stunned Mon­day night by de­fec­tions by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Mo­ran of Kansas on a re­pealand-re­place bill.

Many Repub­li­cans sup­port the re­peal-only ap­proach, and they ques­tioned how sen­a­tors who voted for the leg­is­la­tion two years ago could op­pose it now.

“We’re go­ing to find out if there’s hypocrisy in the United States Se­nate in the next few days, I’m afraid,” said Sen. David Per­due, R-Ga.

But for oth­ers, the im­pli­ca­tions were too se­vere now that the bill could ac­tu­ally become law with a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent in the White House ready to sign it. The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice has es­ti­mated that more than 30 mil­lion peo­ple would lose in­surance over a decade un­der the leg­is­la­tion.

Collins voted against the leg­is­la­tion in 2015, and Murkowski and Capito sup­ported it. Murkowski told re­porters Tues­day that re­peal­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act without the prom­ise of a re­place­ment would cause un­cer­tainty and chaos.

“To just say re­peal and ‘Trust us, we’re go­ing to fix it in a cou­ple of years,’ that’s not go­ing to pro­vide com­fort to the anx­i­ety that a lot of Alaskan fam­i­lies are feel­ing right now,” she said.

Said Capito: “I did not come to Wash­ing­ton to hurt peo­ple.”

What’s next? Go back to the com­mit­tee room and work on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis “in a way that the pub­lic feels that we are re­ally work­ing to­ward their best in­ter­ests,” Murkowski said. “It’s where we should have started . ... And yes, this is hard.”

Sure enough, later in the day, Se­nate health com­mit­tee chair­man La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee an­nounced he planned hear­ings on the is­sue in the next few weeks, a step Se­nate Repub­li­cans have not taken to date.

The GOP’s strug­gles over the lat­est mea­sures came down to dif­fer­ences be­tween mod­er­ates who feared the im­pli­ca­tions of a full-blown re­peal, and con­ser­va­tives who wanted noth­ing less. Speaker Paul Ryan man­aged to bridge those di­vides in the House in May, barely pass­ing a bill that would have elim­i­nated the cov­er­age man­dates and tax hikes in the Af­ford­able Care Act, while un­wind­ing the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion and re­mov­ing in­surance cov­er­age for mil­lions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the coun­try.

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