Republicans in Congress have been unable to agree on a way to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — and now they’re divided on whether they should give up on their GOP-only approach.
Sen. John McCain urged fellow senators Friday to “start fresh” and seek a bipartisan plan, hours after he provided the decisive vote against his chamber’s latest Affordable Care Act change proposal. “We can do this,” the Arizona Republican said in a statement.
Other Republicans insist they got too close to a GOP-only agreement on demolishing the health law to turn back from that idea. The Senate fell one vote short of advancing a partial repeal of some parts of the Affordable Care Act early Friday, with opposition from McCain and two other Republicans. In May, the House passed its replacement plan on a razor-thin 217-213 vote.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said he has no intention of working with Democrats. “In the end, we will prevail,” the North Carolina Republican told reporters Friday. “I fully expect we’ll have something on the president’s desk in September.”
Senate Republican hardliner Ted Cruz of Texas also dismissed the idea of bipartisanship out of hand.
“It’s a hit in the gut; now we’re reacting, what do we do,” Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, told reporters.
President Donald Trump’s impulse has been do nothing, let the current system die and wait for Democrats to come to him to seek new legislation.
“They should have approved health care last night but, boy oh boy, the swamp,” Trump said in a speech Friday in Ronkonkoma, New York. “I said from the beginning let Obamacare implode.”
There have been repeated hints that the president could stop making the health-care law’s cost-sharing payments for low-income people, which insurers and analysts have warned would cause a spike in premiums and perhaps even a pullout from more markets.
But that’s a risky strategy, with Republicans in charge of all of Washington and the president already facing historically low poll ratings heading into a midterm election year.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney expressed disappointment in an interview with Bloomberg TV.
“We had hoped to clear the decks of health care last night so we could move our full attention to tax reform,” Mulvaney said. With the Senate scheduled to remain in session for two more weeks before taking an August recess, he added: “All I know is we still expect them to do something before they leave town.”
Earlier this week McCain made a dramatic return to the Senate following brain-cancer treatment to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill. But he gave the decisive thumbs-down during Friday’s vote on a bare-bones Affordable Care Act change bill designed to jump-start bicameral talks on a final bill. The final tally was 49-51, with Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voting no.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (Photo: Schumer)
The collapse was a blow to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has previously said if Republicans failed they would need to cut a deal with Democrats to stabilize the markets. After the dramatic failure of his bill, the flush-faced leader declared he wasn’t interested in a “bailout” of insurance companies but wanted to hear what other ideas Democrats have.
In the Senate, half a dozen Republican and Democratic senators have discussed alternatives to the embattled GOP health-care bill. They mostly center on creating a reinsurance fund and authorizing cost-sharing payments for insurers on the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchanges so they don’t have to raise prices for covering a sicker pool of customers. Another Democratic idea would take a bite out of drug company payments and plow the savings into the system.