WASHINGTON ― Less than a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will vote to repeal Obamacare without providing a replacement, his plan is dead.
Three Republicans announced Tuesday that they won’t vote for a procedural step to take up the bill ― and that’s all it takes to kill it. Those senators are Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.). Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) also raised concerns about a repeal-only plan increasing uncertainty in the marketplace and leading to higher premiums and deductibles.
McConnell has now failed three times in the last month to pass a bill to gut Obamacare, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, something Republicans have vowed to do for seven years. The crux of the problem: Moderate Republicans want to keep key pieces of the law in place and aren’t comfortable throwing millions of people off health care, while conservative Republicans want to throw out the whole law. There’s not a lot of middle ground. Democrats have been cut out of negotiations entirely.
President Donald Trump, who’s been pressuring Republicans to hurry up and pass a “beautiful” repeal bill, saw the writing on the wall Tuesday and distanced himself from McConnell’s mess.
“Let Obamacare fail,” Trump said, per The Associated Press. “I’m not going to own it.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans developed the ability to walk faster than ever before without replying to reporters’ questions on Tuesday.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is in GOP leadership, had no response when asked what happens next if his party can’t pass the repeal bill.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) managed to spit out one word: “Prayer.”
Asked what the latest failure to repeal Obamacare says about his party’s ability to govern, since the GOP controls the government and has been promising to repeal the health care law for years, Roberts said only, “Not much.”
McConnell is still planning to hold the procedural vote on the repeal bill and said on Tuesday evening it would take place early next week, even though he doesn’t have the votes to move it forward. Such a vote would put Republicans on record on the issue.
From there, it’s unclear what he plans to do next. After months of defeat on Obamacare repeal, McConnell may simply prefer to vote, let it fail, and move on to other agenda items like tax reform or budget matters.
“We have demonstrated that Republicans, by themselves, are not prepared at this particular point to do a replacement,” the GOP leader bluntly conceded to reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
Asked how he’ll justify failing to repeal Obamacare to voters, McConnell replied, “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice,” referring to how Republicans denied a Supreme Court seat to President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland, all last year in order to let Trump fill the seat this year.
Republicans still have ideas for how to get something done on health care. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants a vote on his bill to turn all of the estimated $110 billion federal dollars spent on Obamacare into block grants to the states. Murkowski, who seemed liberated after announcing her opposition to the latest GOP proposal, told reporters it’s time to bring Democrats and Republicans together to fix problems with the health care law.
“Yes, this is hard,” she said. “What I think has to happen is the Republicans have to admit that some of the things in the ACA we actually liked and the Democrats have to admit that some things they voted for in the ACA are broken and need to be fixed. And we need to take it up in open committee, offer amendments, try to build a consensus product and do it in a way that the public feels that we are really working towards their interest.”
Collins echoed Murkowski’s strategy.
“What I’ve recommended is that the [health] committee hold hearings, that we look at doing a bipartisan bill,” she told reporters. “I think that would be most effective.”
Democrats wandered the halls, meanwhile, with a little spring in their step.
“I’m feeling great,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “It was very clear that this was one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation brought forth in modern history. The American people didn’t want it … Now our job is to go forward and to create health care for all people, as a right.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Sen. John Thune as a senator for North Dakota.
This story has been updated to include McConnell’s statement on Tuesday evening.
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