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McConnell's New Affordable Care Act Repeal Lacks GOP Votes to Pass

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(Bloomberg) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s new proposal to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act appears to be dead less than 24 hours after he dropped his replacement plan for lack of support among fellow Republicans.

(Related: 4 ACA Change Paths That Just Got More Popular)

GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito and Lisa Murkowski said Tuesday they’ll oppose a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell said late Monday the Senate would vote on a repeal with a two-year delay to give Congress time to agree on a replacement, but he could afford to lose no more than two Republican votes to advance the measure.

“We’ll let Obamacare fail” and then Democrats may want to agree on a replacement, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House. “I’m not going to own it.”

McConnell told reporters the Senate will vote on a repeal bill “in the near future.” If that vote fails, “That doesn’t mean the problems all go away,” he said, adding that he expects Republican and Democratic committee leaders to hold hearings on what to do. “We’ll have to see what the way forward is.”

But Collins of Maine told reporters that repealing the law now and then hoping for a replacement “would create great anxiety for individuals who rely on the ACA.” She said she would oppose bringing a repeal bill up for debate. “I believe it would cause the insurance markets to go into turmoil.”

Capito of West Virginia said she would refuse to take up a repeal plan without an adequate replacement. “I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” she said in a statement.

‘Enough Chaos’

Murkowski of Alaska also said she would refuse to take up a repeal-alone measure.

“There’s enough chaos and uncertainty already and this would just contribute to it,” Murkowski told reporters. She said she wants a fix that would stabilize individual insurance markets and leave Medicaid unchanged, and that lawmakers should work on a bipartisan measure in committee.

On Monday, opposition from four Republicans sank McConnell’s repeal and replacement legislation, which the majority leader drafted mostly in secret. The inability to deliver on seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be the biggest failure yet for Trump and Republicans since they won control of Congress and the White House.

Republicans discussed how to pick up the pieces at their regular policy lunch Tuesday. Several senators have made clear that they want GOP leaders to pursue an alternative that would require working with Democrats.

Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, chairman of the health committee, said the panel will hold hearings in the next few weeks on how to stabilize individual health-insurance markets.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch said it may be time to put aside an Affordable Care Act repeal and, if McConnell decides to do so, Congress should consider short-term measures to stabilize insurance markets. Hatch of Utah said it may be difficult to pay for reinsurance funds and cost reduction subsidies to stabilize markets.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Republicans “to take us up on our offer of working together to improve the health care system rather than sabotage it.”

If the Trump administration withholds cost-sharing subsidies to insurers covering lower-income people, as the president has threatened to do, “they will pay a huge political price. He’s actually hurting his own presidency and his own party by threatening to hurt so many people,” Schumer said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Photo: Paul)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Photo: Paul)

Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey said he is concerned the Trump administration may seek to sabotage Obamacare by refusing to pay the subsidies or not enforcing the requirement that individuals obtain insurance.

“Democrats won’t be pulled into this thing” in which the GOP undercuts or repeals the current system and Democrats have to “come running” to fix it, Pallone said. “If the goal is improve the ACA, rather than repeal it, yes of course,” Democrats will work with Republicans, he said.

‘Best Next Step’

A bipartisan group of 11 governors, led by Ohio Republican John Kasich, said in a statement that the Senate should reject an immediate repeal, which they said could leave millions of Americans without coverage.

“The best next step is for both parties to come together and do what we can all agree on: fix our unstable insurance markets,” said the governors, who also said they should be allowed to provide input.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted June 14-19 showed that 59% of those surveyed would hold Republicans, now in control of the government, responsible for any future problems with Obamacare, while 30% said they would blame Democrats who enacted the law.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that nearly every Republican voted for the same repeal-only bill in 2015, so if they oppose it now, “they’ve got some explaining to do.” Capito and Murkowski voted for the repeal then, while Collins voted against it.

When Congress passed that repeal bill, they did so knowing it would be vetoed by President Barack Obama. This year, now that it could become law, such a proposal has drawn little support among Republican senators, with the exception of those in its most conservative wing.

‘We All Care Deeply’

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said he didn’t see the Republicans who doomed the McConnell plan as disloyal.

“Absolutely not. We all care deeply,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I think every member of Congress cares quite deeply about the mess we’re in right now with the health care system.”

Trump said on Twitter Monday night that “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.” The president also tweeted that the Senate, controlled by Republicans 52-48, should eliminate the 60-vote threshold for advancing bills that don’t use a special fast-track procedure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters he would like to see “the Senate move on something.” The House passed its own version of a replacement bill in May.

“I’m worried that Obamacare will continue to stand and the law will continue to collapse and hurt people in the process,” said Ryan of Wisconsin.

McConnell had faced an increasingly narrow path on the health bill, with no apparent way to win over conservative and moderate holdouts seeking to pull the measure in opposite directions. McConnell’s plan already was teetering on the brink after Sen. John McCain’s unexpected surgery late Friday left him one short of the votes needed to start debate this week.

The Senate Republican leadership team has expressed a desire to begin moving on to other matters, including an overhaul of the tax code, a boost in the nation’s debt ceiling and next year’s spending bills.

— Read 10 Health Insurance Ideas That Could Bloom in 2017 on ThinkAdvisor.


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