McConnell hit hard on health care vote de­lay

Repub­li­cans strug­gle with reach­ing ac­cord

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOWELL JR. AND S.A. MILLER

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell shelved plans for the Se­nate to vote this week on the Repub­li­cans’ pro­posed Oba­macare re­peal, suffering an em­bar­rass­ing set­back Tues­day as he ac­knowl­edged the bill he wrote failed to win over enough troops in his own party.

Repub­li­can leaders in­sisted they will try again in July, but they strug­gled to ex­plain how they might bridge the gap within their party, where con­ser­va­tives want the bill to fur­ther dis­man­tle Oba­macare while mod­er­ates say it al­ready goes too far.

As many as a dozen Repub­li­cans sig­naled re­luc­tance to back the pro­posal, leav­ing Mr. McConnell well shy of the 50 sen­a­tors he would need to clear the bill this week.

“It’s a com­pli­cated sub­ject,” Mr. McConnell told re­porters after a lunch meet­ing be­tween Se­nate Repub­li­cans and Vice President Mike Pence.

Hours later, President Trump in­vited all Se­nate Repub­li­cans to a White House meet­ing and urged them to try to find a com­pro­mise that would work.

Mr. Trump said Oba­macare is “melt­ing down” so they have no choice but to pur­sue a bet­ter plan, though he seemed to sug­gest that hit­ting a wall would be ac­cept­able.

“It will be great when we get it done,” Mr. Trump told the sen­a­tors. “If we don’t get it done, it’s just go­ing to be some­thing we’re not go­ing to like. And that’s OK. And I un­der­stand that very well. But I think we have a chance to do some­thing very, very im­por­tant for the public, very, very im­por­tant for the peo­ple of our coun­try.”

Head­ing into Tues­day, Repub­li­can leaders had said they were on track for a vote by the end of this week, even as they strug­gled with the vote count.

But as they hud­dled for their weekly lunch, it be­came clear that the bill Mr. McConnell re­leased last week after a month of ne­go­ti­a­tions and se­cret draft­ing ses­sions wasn’t go­ing to pass.

The bill suf­fered a fatal blow Mon­day when the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice pro­jected that 22 mil­lion fewer peo­ple would have health in­sur­ance as a re­sult of the Se­nate bill.

Though the bill would save $321 bil­lion — roughly $200 bil­lion more than a House bill that passed in May — the eye­pop­ping cov­er­age num­bers and changes to Med­i­caid de­tailed in the CBO re­port spooked cen­trists such as Sen. Su­san M. Collins of Maine, who said ru­ral hos­pi­tals would be hit hard.

She was among five Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who said they would join Democrats in vot­ing to pre­vent the bill from even reach­ing the floor. Oth­ers said they were pre­pared to vote against the bill on fi­nal pas­sage un­less it had been im­proved.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans can suf­fer only two de­fec­tions from their 52-seat ma­jor­ity to pass the bill un­der fast-track bud­get rules they are us­ing to avoid a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster.

Sen. Jerry Mo­ran, Kansas Repub­li­can, said the bill “missed the mark” for his state.

“I am pleased with the de­ci­sion to de­lay the vote. Now is the time to take a step back and put the full leg­isla­tive process to work,” Mr. Mo­ran said.

Repub­li­can Sens. Rob Port­man of Ohio and Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia also an­nounced their op­po­si­tion, cit­ing po­ten­tial cuts to drug abuse treat­ment pro­grams.

“The Se­nate draft be­fore us in­cludes some promis­ing changes to re­duce pre­mi­ums in the in­di­vid­ual in­sur­ance mar­ket, but I con­tinue to have real con­cerns about the Med­i­caid poli­cies in this bill, es­pe­cially those that im­pact drug treat­ment at a time when Ohio is fac­ing an opi­oid epi­demic,” Mr. Port­man said.

Repub­li­can leaders said Oba­macare is fail­ing and they will con­tinue to reach for a so­lu­tion this sum­mer.

Coun­ties in Ohio, In­di­ana and Mis­souri — 49 in all — are pro­jected to have no in­sur­ers of­fer­ing plans on their Oba­macare ex­changes next year, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices, as in­sur­ers con­tend with a costly cus­tomer base and Mr. Trump’s wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to prop­ping up the law.

“We’re go­ing to press on. We think the sta­tus quo is un­sus­tain­able,” Mr. McConnell said.

His U-turn was a clear set­back for some­one known as a mas­ter­ful leg­is­la­tor and tac­ti­cian.

But he got a vote of con­fi­dence from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, who said he ex­pects Mr. McConnell to even­tu­ally de­liver.

“I would not bet against Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Ryan told re­porters.

The speaker had to shelve a vote in the House ear­lier this year but re­turned weeks later with a re­vised ver­sion that passed on a 217-213 vote. That ex­pe­ri­ence could give hope to Mr. McConnell, who must now look for changes that can win over re­luc­tant sen­a­tors.

Democrats, mean­while, said the de­lay val­i­dated their re­sis­tance.

“De­lay­ing the Trump­care vote shows Repub­li­cans are feel­ing the heat from their con­stituents, and now we must con­tinue to pour on the pres­sure,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Democrat.

Con­ser­va­tive groups, mean­while, said the Repub­li­can bill didn’t go far enough in dis­man­tling the 2010 Af­ford­able Care Act.

“Only in Wash­ing­ton does ‘re­peal’ trans­late to ‘re­store.’ Be­cause that’s ex­actly what the Se­nate GOP health care bill does: It re­stores Oba­macare,” said David McIntosh, president of the freemar­ket Club for Growth. “And while it’s hard to imag­ine, in some ways the Se­nate’s leg­is­la­tion would make our na­tion’s fail­ing health care sys­tem worse.”

Mov­ing the bill fur­ther to the right to meet con­ser­va­tives’ ob­jec­tions could de­ter mod­er­ates, in a re­peat of the Repub­li­can tug of war that dogged Mr. Ryan dur­ing the House de­bate.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, re­newed his call for bi­par­ti­san ne­go­ti­a­tions on health care, start­ing with ef­forts to bring down pre­scrip­tion drug costs.

He pitched ideas that Repub­li­cans have re­jected, in­clud­ing a gov­ern­men­trun plan, or public op­tion, to com­pete with private plans and a per­ma­nent ex­ten­sion of cost-shar­ing pay­ments that re­im­burse in­sur­ers who are re­quired to cover low-in­come cus­tomers’ out-of­pocket costs.

Mr. Schumer is cred­it­ing out­side groups for slow­ing down the Repub­li­can plan, which he char­ac­ter­ized as a tax cut for wealthy Amer­i­cans and a bad deal for those who are strug­gling.

“The core of their bill,” he said, “is so, so out of touch with what the aver­age Amer­i­can, even the aver­age Repub­li­can, wants.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DIS­AP­POINTED: Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell said Tues­day that he would de­lay a vote on the Repub­li­can health care bill while the party lead­er­ship works on get­ting enough votes after the July Fourth re­cess.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell of Ken­tucky, flanked by Sen. John Thune (left) of South Dakota and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, were among the Repub­li­cans who met Tues­day with President Trump.

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