GOP se­na­tors blink on chance to re­peal ACA

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

WASHINGTON» Af­ter seven years of emphatic cam­paign prom­ises, Se­nate Repub­li­cans demon­strated they didn’t have the stom­ach to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act on Wed­nes­day when it ac­tu­ally counted. The Se­nate voted 55-45 to re­ject leg­is­la­tion to throw out ma­jor por­tions of Barack Obama’s law with­out re­plac­ing it.

Seven Repub­li­cans joined all Democrats in re­ject­ing a mea­sure by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky that would have re­pealed most of for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama’s health care law, with a two-year de­lay but no re­place­ment. Congress passed nearly iden­ti­cal leg­is­la­tion in 2015 and sent it to Obama, who un­sur­pris­ingly ve­toed it.

Yet this time, with Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in the White House itch­ing

to sign the bill, the mea­sure failed on the Se­nate floor. The Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice has es­ti­mated that re­peal­ing the ACA with­out re­plac­ing it would cost more than 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans their in­sur­ance cov­er­age, and that was a key fac­tor in driv­ing away more Repub­li­can se­na­tors than Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell could af­ford to lose in the closely di­vided Se­nate.

The re­sult frus­trated other GOP se­na­tors, some of whom ex­pressed dis­be­lief that their col­leagues would flip-flop on leg­is­la­tion they had voted for only two years ago and long promised to vot­ers. Of the cur­rent Repub­li­can se­na­tors, only mod­er­ate Su­san Collins of Maine op­posed the 2015 re­peal bill.

“Make no mis­take: To­day’s vote is a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment to peo­ple who were promised full re­peal,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Ne­braska. “We still have a long, long way to go — both in health pol­icy and in hon­esty.”

Yet the out­come was hardly a shock in a Se­nate that has shown unity is elu­sive when it comes to deal­ing with the ACA. The real-world im­pli­ca­tions of re­peal have proven sober­ing to GOP se­na­tors an­swer­ing to vot­ers who have come to rely on ex­panded in­sur­ance cov­er­age un­der the law.

It’s not over yet. But what the party’s se­na­tors might end up agree­ing on in­stead is far from clear. They are plung­ing ahead with de­bate to­ward their un­known goal, pres­sured by an im­pa­tient pres­i­dent. By week’s end, Repub­li­cans hope to reach agree­ment among them­selves, and even­tu­ally with the House, on some kind of re­peal and re­place­ment for the Obama law they have re­viled for so long.

“We have to keep work­ing hard,” said Mc­Connell, R-Ky. “We’re de­ter­mined to do every­thing we can to suc­ceed. We know our con­stituents are count­ing on us.”

One pos­si­bil­ity tak­ing shape in talks among se­na­tors was a “skinny re­peal” that would abol­ish just a few of the key el­e­ments of Obama’s law, in­clud­ing its man­dates that ev­ery­one pur­chase in­sur­ance and its taxes that all GOP se­na­tors can agree to op­pose. But in a sign of the gen­eral con­fu­sion, some said the tac­tic was aimed chiefly at mov­ing the process for­ward into the purview of a com­mit­tee of Se­nate-House bar­gain­ers while oth­ers ex­pressed the hope that the House would swal­low a “skinny bill” whole, free­ing Congress to move on to other is­sues.

Ei­ther way, af­ter weeks spent on the is­sue in­clud­ing false starts and neardeath ex­pe­ri­ences that have eaten up months of Trump’s pres­i­dency, the re­al­iza­tion was dawn­ing on se­na­tors that they may be un­able to pass any­thing more com­plex for now than a low­est­com­mon-de­nom­i­na­tor bill.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to start some­where. This is a start,” said Sen. Thom Til­lis, R-N.C.

The day’s pro­ceed­ings be­gan with prod­ding from Trump, who has proven im­pa­tient and in­con­sis­tent through­out the health care de­bate and yet can claim some credit for re­sus­ci­tat­ing Se­nate talks af­ter Mc­Connell essen­tially de­clared them dead last week.

The pres­i­dent sin­gled out Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who had voted the day be­fore against open­ing long-awaited de­bate on the leg­is­la­tion and op­posed a wide-rang­ing Mc­Connell amend­ment Tues­day that of­fered a re­place­ment for Oba­macare and went down to de­feat.

“Sen­a­tor @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska re­ally let the Repub­li­cans, and our coun­try, down yes­ter­day. Too bad!” Trump wrote.

“I don’t re­ally fol­low Twit­ter that much,” Murkowski re­marked to re­porters later with a shrug.

Murkowski was also among the seven GOP se­na­tors who voted no Wed­nes­day on the re­peal-only bill. The oth­ers were Collins, Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia, Dean Heller of Ne­vada, John McCain of Ari­zona, Rob Port­man of Ohio and La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee.

In a state­ment de­fend­ing his vote, Port­man wrote: “We need a res­cue plan for Ohio fam­i­lies who are suf­fer­ing un­der the sta­tus quo, not one that makes the health care sys­tem worse for Ohio fam­i­lies.”

Se­na­tors were work­ing their way through 20 hours of de­bate. At week’s end, a “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire vot­ing on a moun­tain of amend­ments was ex­pected be­fore mov­ing to fi­nal pas­sage — of some­thing.

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