GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Abandons Health-Care Bill

Majority leader says “it is now apparent” Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare won’t be successful

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the GOP’s health-bill overhaul late Monday night.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the GOP’s health-bill overhaul late Monday night. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON—Senate GOP leaders gave up their effort to dismantle and simultaneously replace much of the Affordable Care Act, after the defections of two more Republican senators left the party short of the votes needed to pass President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority of his first seven months in office.

In a stinging defection for party leadership, GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on Monday night became the third and fourth Republicans to oppose the latest version of the GOP bill, which would roll back and replace much of the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Republicans had already lost two GOP votes, from Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, and the new opposition from Messrs. Lee and Moran meant Senate leaders didn’t have enough support to advance the bill in a procedural vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) acknowledged the defeat. “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” he said in a statement.

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!

In a strategy facing long odds, the majority leader said the Senate would instead vote in coming days on a bill the chamber passed in late 2015 to unravel most of the ACA, which former President Barack Obama vetoed in January 2016.

Conservatives in both chambers and Mr. Trump have pressed to repeat the vote on the 2015 bill, which Mr. McConnell said would come as an amendment to the health-care bill passed by the House in May and would allow for a two-year transition.

“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Mr. Trump tweeted shortly before Mr. McConnell’s statement.

Mr. Trump had embraced the idea earlier in July when it was proposed by Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who noted that 49 sitting GOP senators had voted for a sweeping repeal bill earlier.

But many Republican senators have balked at this strategy, saying they wouldn’t feel comfortable rolling back the ACA without being able to tell their constituents what would supplant it.

Mr. McConnell’s latest tactic applies new pressure to conservatives who have so far blocked a bill they have said falls short of ACA repeal by offering them the chance to vote on exactly that. And while it is unlikely to become law, it also offers a way to move on from a bruising fight.

With 52 Republicans in the Senate, Mr. McConnell needed to secure at least 50 GOP votes, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote. No Democrats were expected to support the bill. The opposition from Messrs. Lee and Moran ended a frenzied period of negotiations aimed at shoring up faltering GOP support.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle-class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Mr. Lee, one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans, said in a statement Monday night.

Mr. Moran said he objected to the process used to craft the Senate GOP health-care bill, which he said “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care’s rising costs.”

Messrs. Lee and Moran are likely to face backlash from Mr. Trump and his supporters, who were eager to see Republicans keep their seven-year promise to repeal the 2010 health law.

Their move comes as a surprise to many in Washington, since Mr. Moran rarely breaks with GOP leaders and Mr. Lee has often voted in step with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who introduced a key measure that GOP leaders incorporated into the bill last week.

On Monday night, the White House issued a statement that repeated a stance the president’s officials have taken in recent days—that GOP senators have no choice but to act.

“Insurance markets continue to collapse, premiums continue to rise, and Obamacare remains a failure. Inaction is not an option,” a spokesman said. “We look forward to Congress continuing to work toward a bill the president can sign to end the Obamacare nightmare and restore quality care at affordable prices.”

Republicans’ struggle to pass a health-care bill has exposed divisions within the party that could imperil other key items on their legislative agenda, including their yearslong push to overhaul the tax code.

Many had expected the next defection to come from the more centrist GOP senators, who have wavered over the latest version of the health-care bill, including Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, who is up for re-election next year, and Republicans concerned about the bill’s cuts to federal Medicaid funding, such as Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

Democrats said it was time for Republicans to begin to work with them on strengthening the health-care system.

“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Monday night. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health-care system.”

The downfall of the bill is a tough blow for Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that undoing the 2010 law is a priority and has leaned heavily on fellow Republicans to make it happen. Mr. Trump said recently he would be very angry if the repeal legislation didn’t make it to his desk, and he was meeting Monday night with a handful of Republican senators to discuss the legislation.

Earlier Monday, the president promised Republicans would replace the law with “something that is going to be outstanding” and “far, far better than failing Obamacare.”

“We’re going to get that done,” he said, “and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has already encouraged states to apply for waivers giving them more flexibility in enforcing the law and structuring their Medicaid programs. The waivers allow states to require many people to work to obtain their Medicaid benefits, among other changes.

Insurers will immediately be looking for assurances that the cost-sharing subsidies will be paid, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The drop-dead date for insurers will be mid to late September, when they have to sign contracts for 2018.

The individual insurance market has been stabilizing in most of the country and could continue just fine, Mr. Levitt said, but insurers will be reading the tea leaves for whether the Trump administration will make the subsidy payments they are expecting and enforce the individual mandate.

There are still some fragile markets, especially in rural areas, and they will likely require some shoring up to make sure insurers are participating and premiums are affordable, he said.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 18, 2017, print edition as ‘GOP Abandons Senate Health Bill.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/gop-senate-leader-mcconnell-abandons-health-care-bill-1500348064

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One Response to “GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Abandons Health-Care Bill”

  1. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

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