WASHINGTON – A last-gasp Hail Mary for full repeal of Obamacare appears certain to fail. There are not the votes in either chamber of Congress.
Mitch McConnell pulled the second draft of his health-care bill Monday night after two more Republican senators came out against even bringing it up for debate on the floor: Utah's Mike Lee and Kansas's Jerry Moran.
"Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," the Senate majority leader said in a statement sent at 10:47 p.m. ET.
He announced that he'll bring the bill that already passed the House up for consideration "in the coming days," and the first amendment the Senate would take up would be for the full repeal of Obamacare (with a two-year delay for implementation). But to get that vote on repeal, conservative critics must vote to allow debate on the broader bill.
If the clean vote for full repeal failed, as it almost certainly would, senators could continue making additional amendments that may make the measure even more unpalatable to conservatives.
GOP lawmakers have voted repeatedly to repeal Obamacare, and the Senate even passed a bill with this exact same language in 2015. But Barack Obama was president then, and it was a safe vote because everyone knew he'd veto it. This would no longer be a show vote.
• The Post's Sean Sullivan explains that the wily Kentuckian's announcement amounts to a dare: "McConnell practically challenged conservative critics of the bill to vote against moving the process ahead. . . . If hard-right conservative senators vote no on proceeding with the bill and it collapses, McConnell can come back at them and say, 'Well, you had your chance at the 'clean repeal' you demanded. And you decided not to take it.' He will have shifted some of the blame onto others and given himself a new talking point to counter the 'clean repeal' crowd – which includes President Trump. If they vote yes – hey, they're suddenly back on track, at the table debating legislation with at least some chance of passing."
What's less clear at this point is McConnell's end game. "If this doesn't work out," Sean wonders, "will he move on to other matters? Follow through on his threats to work with Democrats and narrower reforms, which were seen as ways to try to pressure conservatives not to let this fail? . . . There are no longer any good outcomes for McConnell – politically speaking. There are bad ones and less bad ones. And putting the onus on other senators means there will be more blame to go around when this all ends."
• The Republican conference remains deeply divided. While Lee announced that he's against the bill because "it doesn't go far enough," Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) opposed the measure because it goes too far. There are several senators on each side of that divide.
"We must now start fresh with an open legislative process. . .," Moran said in his statement announcing opposition to the latest version. "This closed-door process has yielded the BCRA, which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare's rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one. . . . We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy."
Sen. John McCain, recovering from surgery in Arizona, called on Republicans to begin working with Democrats to fix the system in a statement: "One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare's failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation's governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), likely to face a primary from his right in 2020, encouraged McConnell to take up an alternative plan he released last week with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.):
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) had hinted Monday, before McConnell pulled the bill, that he might vote against advancing the measure to floor debate, as well. He publicly expressed frustration with comments by McConnell, intended to reassure senators like Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, that the bill's deepest Medicaid cuts are far into the future and are unlikely to ever actually go into effect. Johnson said he read about these private comments in The Post last Thursday and then confirmed them with other senators. "If our leader is basically saying don't worry about it, we've designed it so that those reforms will never take effect, first of all, that's a pretty significant breach of trust," Johnson told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "And why support the bill then?"
• Reporters who are following the debate most closely don't think McConnell's gambit will work.
From the Post's senior congressional correspondent:
From one of the Post's political reporters:
From a New York Times reporter who covers health care:
Margot Sanger-Katz tweeted:
From a Washington Examiner reporter who covers Republicans:
From a Politico reporter who covers Congress:
• But, but, but: Pressure from conservatives and the White House could still make the repeal vote very tough for some senators.
Trump re-endorsed straight repeal Monday night, tweeting:
So did the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus:
• The mood on the Hill will continue to be tense in the coming days.
The person who broke into Republican Sen. Dean Heller's Las Vegas office over the weekend left a threatening note related to the health-care bill. The person asserted that he would lose his health care and die if the bill passes and would take Heller with him, per the Nevada Independent's Jon Ralston. (wrote the Post's Amy B Wang and Ed O'Keefe)
Protests Monday led to the arrests of 33 people at the Capitol. "The alliance between elected Democrats and protest groups, fragile just a few months ago, has strengthened even as protests have become more disruptive," The Post's David Weigel and Perry Stein report.
How it’s playing
• "Trump blindsided …" by Politico's Josh Dawsey: "To Trump, the Obamacare fight has always been about scoring a win. He doesn't care nearly as much about the specifics, people close to him say, and hasn't understood why legislators just won't make deals and bring something, anything to his desk."
• "With Stand Against Health Bill, Republican Mike Lee Hews True to Form," by the Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Hughes: "The Utah Republican has, in fact, built a career on taking such firm stands. . . . Mr. Lee isn't known for seeking to bask in the spotlight. . . . This time, Mr. Lee played to form. In coming out against a 'motion to proceed' to debating the GOP plan, he announced that Mr. Moran would take the same position. The maneuver had the effect of ensuring that neither man would be cast as the single deciding vote in stopping the GOP plan from coming to the floor."
• "Old Truth Trips Up G.O.P. on Health Law: A Benefit Is Hard to Retract," by the New York Times's Jennifer Steinhauer: "In the end, Republicans relearned a lesson that has bedeviled them since the New Deal: An American entitlement, once established, can almost never be retracted."
• "Thank god. Now the bill can die," one senior GOP Senate aide texted Axios's Caitlin Owens.
• The Drudge Report goes with an all-red banner: "REPEAL DEAD. OBAMACARE REMAINS LAW OF LAND."
• The headline on Breitbart's homepage: "RIP: REPUBLICAN HEALTHCARE BILL FLATLINES."
• PJ Media (another conservative site): "Healthcare Bill Flatlines . . ."
• "The Party of Bad Faith?" by National Review Editor Rich Lowry: "If the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare ultimately fails, it will be a lesson in the wages of political bad faith. . . . The effort also suffers from a mismatch between the longtime public posture of Republicans (Obamacare must and will be fully repealed) and their private misgivings (do we really have to do this, even partially?)."
• "McConnell Has Few Options Left on Health Care-and the Base Is Angry as Hell," by The Daily Beast's Sam Stein and Andrew Desiderio: "McConnell now faces one of the most difficult obstacles of his decades-long career. His close aides fret that failure to pass some legislation could depress the Republican base and leave the party incredibly vulnerable in 2018. But no amount of procedural maneuvering or policy reshuffling has allowed him to crack the health care reform code. His options are limited and none are particularly confidence-inducing."
• New York Magazine: "Trumpcare as We Know It Is Dead."
• The Financial Times: "Trump suffers stinging defeat as Obamacare overhaul collapses. Republicans turn to high-risk strategy of scrapping system without an alternative."
• "BCRA is dead, but Obamacare repeal is still alive," by Vox's Matthew Yglesias: "The problem, fundamentally, for people who care about health insurance coverage is that of the four Republican defectors only one – (Susan) Collins – objects to the bill on the grounds that it doesn't cover enough people. The other three are complaining, fundamentally, that the bill isn't 'real' Obamacare repeal or doesn't go far enough. For people's coverage to be safe, something else has to happen."
• "Is Trumpcare finally dead?" by the Post's Jennifer Rubin: "To be clear, the Better Care Reconciliation Act was already at death's door before McCain took ill and before Lee and Moran's announcements. . . . Initially, McConnell may have figured a ridiculously early deadline for a vote in July could have cleared the decks (win or lose), but now he has a ready-made excuse for ditching the whole exercise."
• "Obamacare repeal could haunt Senate Republicans in 2020," by Politico's Kyle Cheney and Elana Schor: "Like the 2010 health care law, the GOP bill would not take effect all at once. Many of the most politically tricky provisions are staggered over the coming years and would hit right as a promising group of freshmen Republican senators come up for reelection in 2020."
• "GOP health bill nears demise, but Democrats' unity masks their own dangerous divide," by McClatchy's Lesley Clark: "Even as Republicans fight among themselves to dismantle the law, the liberal wing of the Democratic party is aggressively pushing Democrats to embrace a single payer system[.] . . . Yet some of those who support single payer urge caution at this point, even as Republicans continue to grapple with efforts to overturn Obamacare."
• "Could GOP health-care bill's implosion actually lead to bipartisan solution?" by MarketWatch's Mike Murphy: "Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, and if a repeal vote fails, McConnell would be left with few options. One of those options would be something many hard-line Republicans seem loathe to consider: Working with Democrats. . . . As outlandish as that plan may seem in these bitterly partisan times, it may be one step closer to reality."
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