Senate plan to repeal Obamacare appears doomed as moderates balk

GOP health care plan appears doomed

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's sudden move to try to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan appeared doomed Tuesday as at least three moderate Republicans rejected the idea.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they will not support a motion to proceed to the bill, which would repeal Obamacare in two years. Without their support, McConnell cannot get the 50 votes he needs to pass a repeal bill.

McConnell proposed the idea late Monday when it became clear that he did not have enough GOP votes to pass the latest Senate version of a replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act.

Although McConnell also appears to lack the votes to pass the repeal bill, he said Tuesday that he plans to have a vote soon on the motion to proceed and see what happens.

"That's what I sense most of us would like to vote on now, and we'll do that in the near future," McConnell told reporters.

If the vote fails, "We will have demonstrated that Republicans by themselves aren't prepared to pass a replacement."

"And we'll have to see what the way forward is," McConnell said, adding that there would likely need to be committee hearings.

After the vote on the repeal bill — however it turns out — the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold hearings during the next few weeks to discuss how to stabilize the individual insurance market, said Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Capito said Tuesday she "did not come to Washington to hurt people." She said she could not support any bill that would harm West Virginians who depend on Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid to provide basic medical coverage or help pay for treatment for opioid addiction. 

"I do not think that it’s constructive to repeal a law that is so interwoven within our health care system without having a replacement plan in place," Collins said Tuesday. "We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets."

Both Collins and Murkowski said senators need to hold committee hearings to begin work on a new health care bill that can attract bipartisan support.

"It’s where we should have started," Murkowski said. "Work on a bipartisan basis. And yes this is hard, let’s just all acknowledge that, but I think what 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 of the things they voted for in the ACA are broken and need to be fixed. And we need to come together in open committee, we need to hash it through, take up amendments, try to build a consensus product but do it in a way that the public feels that we are working toward their best interests."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he had concerns about the repeal bill as well, although he stopped short of saying he would oppose it.

"If it is a bill that simply repeals (Obamacare), I believe that will add to more uncertainty and the potential for Ohioans to pay even higher premiums, higher deductibles," Portman told MSNBC on Tuesday. "I’ll take a look at it, but I’m concerned about something that would simply repeal, and its impact on cost and choices."

President Trump said Tuesday, "I think we're probably in that position where we'll let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it."

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday said he still favors a health care bill that replaces Obamacare and doesn't just repeal it as Senate leaders are now seeking to do.

"We think (simultaneous repeal and replace) is still the best way to go," the Wisconsin Republican told reporters at a weekly news conference of GOP House leaders.

However, Ryan urged the Senate to pass whatever it can so that House and Senate negotiators can proceed to a conference committee to craft a final compromise bill.

"We'd like to see the Senate move on something," Ryan said. "Frankly, we just have to see what they can do."

The House narrowly passed legislation in May to repeal and replace key portions of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The House bill would eliminate tax penalties for people who don't buy health insurance and would roll back state expansions of Medicaid, which provided medical coverage for millions of low-income Americans.

Senators vowed to craft their own bill rather than trying to pass the House version, which senators from Medicaid-expansion states viewed as too harsh. However, McConnell was unable to convince both moderates and conservatives in his party to agree on an alternative plan. Republicans hold a slim majority of 52 seats in the 100-member Senate.

"I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. "That doesn't mean we should give up. We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare. I think we owe them at least that much."

McConnell criticized Democrats for refusing to work with Republicans on their bill, even though the legislation was effectively killed by members of his own party. Democrats have been united in opposing it, saying they would work with Republicans to "fix" Obamacare if GOP leaders would give up on their plans to repeal the law.

"Our Democratic friends have spoken a lot recently about wanting bipartisan solutions," McConnell said. "Passing this legislation will provide the opportunity for senators of all parties to engage with a fresh start and a new beginning for the American people."

But Democrats quickly rejected the idea of a repeal bill and said it was unfair for McConnell to blame them when Republicans crafted a process designed to pass a health care bill without a single Democratic vote.

"Passing repeal now is not a door to bipartisan solutions, as the majority leader suggested," Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Rather, it is a disaster. The door to bipartisanship is open right now, not with repeal but with an effort to improve the existing system ... Republicans don't need to wreak havoc on our health care system first in order to get Democrats to the table."

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the repeal bill is like saying "hey, jump off this cliff and we're going to figure out how to get you a parachute on the way down."

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., would not say Tuesday whether he still has faith in McConnell as majority leader after the way health care was handled.

Johnson told reporters he was upset by reports that McConnell told moderates privately not to worry about Medicaid cuts, because they would probably never happen. Johnson and other conservatives wanted an overhaul of the Medicaid program, while moderates were trying to ensure that their constituents were not cut off from coverage.

"I found those comments (by McConnell) very troubling," Johnson said.

But Murkowski defended McConnell.

"The majority leader is trying to keep all the frogs in the wheelbarrow and it's a tough job," she said. "But he's doing a good job."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., predicted that the vote on the repeal bill would fail and that Republicans and Democrats would finally work together on a consensus plan.

"This is our moment," she told reporters.

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., warned Republicans that they will have to explain themselves to their GOP constituents if they fail to keep their campaign promise to repeal Obamacare.

McConnell is asking GOP senators to essentially vote again to pass a 2015 bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act in two years. Republican senators passed that bill in 2015, but it was vetoed by former president Barack Obama.

"If you're not willing to vote the same way you voted in 2015, then you need to go back home and explain to Republicans why you're no longer in favor of repealing Obamacare," Paul told reporters.

Contributing: Herb Jackson

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