GOP split on what to do next
Some urge bipartisan effort, but others say they came too close to repeal to turn back.
WASHINGTON» Republicans in Congress have been unable to agree on a way to repeal and replace Obamacare — and now they’re divided on whether they should give up on their GOP-only approach.
Sen. John McCain urged fellow senators Friday to “start fresh” and seek a bipartisan plan, hours after he provided the decisive vote against his chamber’s latest Obamacare-repeal proposal. “We can do this,” the Arizona Republican said in a news release.
Other Republicans insist they came too close to a GOP-only agreement on demolishing Obamacare to turn back from that idea. The Senate fell only one vote short of advancing a partial repeal of Obamacare early Friday, with opposition from McCain and two other Republicans. In May, the House passed its replacement plan on a razor-thin 217-213 vote.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said he has no intention of working with Democrats.
“In the end, we will prevail,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters Friday. “I fully expect we will have something on the president’s desk in September.”
Senate Republican hard-liner Ted Cruz of Texas also dismissed the idea of bipartisanship out of hand.
“It’s a hit in the gut; now we’re reacting, what do we do,” Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia
Republican, told reporters.
President Donald Trump’s impulse has been do nothing, let Obamacare die and wait for Democrats to come to him to seek new legislation.
“They should have approved health care last night but, boy oh boy, the swamp,” Trump said in a speech Friday in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. “I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode.”
There have been repeated hints that the president could stop making the health care law’s cost-sharing payments for low-income people, which insurers and analysts have warned would cause a spike in premiums and perhaps even a pullout from more markets.
But that’s a risky strategy, with Republicans in charge of all of Washington and the president already facing historically low poll ratings heading into a midterm election year.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney expressed disappointment in a Bloomberg TV interview.
“We had hoped to clear the decks of health care last night so we could move our full attention to tax reform,” Mulvaney said. With the Senate scheduled to remain in session for two more weeks before taking an August recess, he added: “All I know is we still expect them to do something before they leave town.”
Earlier this week McCain made a dramatic return to the Senate after brain-cancer treatment to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill. But he gave the decisive thumbs-down during Friday’s vote on a barebones Obamacare replacement designed to jumpstart bicameral talks on a final bill. The final tally was 49-51, with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voting no.
The collapse was a blow to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has previously said if Republicans failed they would need to cut a deal with Democrats to stabilize the markets. After the dramatic failure of his bill, the flushfaced leader declared he wasn’t interested in a “bailout” of insurance companies but wanted to hear what other ideas Democrats have.
In the Senate, half a dozen Republican and Democratic senators have discussed alternatives to the embattled GOP health care bill. They mostly center on creating a reinsurance fund and authorizing cost-sharing payments for insurers on the Obamacare insurance exchanges so they don’t have to raise prices for covering a sicker pool of customers. Another Democratic idea would take a bite out of drug company payments and plow the savings into the system.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters Friday he is optimistic that members of both parties can work together to stabilize insurance markets and then “sit down and trade ideas” for the long run.
“Change it, improve it, but don’t just take a knife and try to destroy it and put nothing in its place,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, met with Trump on Friday to talk about his Obamacare replacement proposal with GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Nevada. The plan, which was never embraced by McConnell or Democrats, would redirect much of the federal funding for health insurance as block grants to states to use for health care spending.