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GOP Support Erodes for McConnell's Obamacare Repeal Plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing to bring before the full a Senate a comprehensive repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the coming days.
Image: Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. arrives on Capitol Hill on July 17, 2017 in Washington.Andrew Harnik / AP

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is preparing to bring before the full Senate a comprehensive repeal of the Affordable Care Act early next week — but Republican support for his plan has quickly eroded.

Three GOP senators — all women who were left out of the core group who met to write the first draft of the Senate's health care bill — have already come out against McConnell's move.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was the fateful third to bail out, effectively killing the effort to repeal Obamacare without an alternative.

"I said in January we should not repeal without a replacement and just an indefinite hold on this just creates more chaos and confusion," Murkowski told reporters.

Murkowski joined two other centrist Republicans who said earlier Tuesday that they aren't willing to support a bill that only repeals Obamacare and provides no replacement or does not attempt to fix it. Loss of the three GOP votes means McConnell doesn't have the 50 votes he needs to move forward.

"I do not support the new plan," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters. "A better approach would begin hearings focused on the problems in the ACA, and let’s try to get bipartisan support to fix those egregious flaws."

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., tweeted her statement in opposition, saying she can't vote for repeal without a replacement. "I did not come to Washington to hurt people," she said.

A member of Republican leadership acknowledged that the repeal-only plan had a slim chance of going anywhere.

"My guess is we’re now headed toward normal committee activity, take 60 votes on the floor to try to solve these significant problems one at a time," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., vice chair of the Republican conference.

President Donald Trump deflected any blame for the Senate's failure. He instead blamed Democrats "and a few Republicans."

Republican senators gathered for their weekly Tuesday lunch divided on if they should proceed with a vote even as the bill's prospects are likely doomed. Numerous senators left the lunch not wanting to talk to the press or saying that the discussion was not definitive.

But some members said that the Senate should still move forward with a vote, saying that nearly every Republican had campaigned on repealing Obamacare.

"We ought to vote and people ought to be recorded up or down because a lot of promises were made when they ran and some people seem to be nervous about keeping their promise," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

McConnell suggested that a vote would take place soon. "That's a vote I think we're very likely to have in the very near future," McConnell said Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier, McConnell outlined his latest plan on health care after his previous version to partially repeal and replace Obamacare fell apart Monday night when two conservatives came out against it, effectively killing the bill.

"I regret that the effort that we repeal and immediately replace Obamacare would not be successful. That doesn’t means we should give up," McConnell said on the Senate floor, acknowledging defeat but looking forward to his next move in a months-long effort that has stymied the Senate. "This doesn’t have to be the end of the story."

He added, "We will now try a different way to bring the people relief from Obamacare. I think we owe them at least that much. In the coming days, the Senate will take up a vote on a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period as we work toward patient-centered healthcare."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that repealing Obamacare without a replacement "would be a disaster."

"Our health care system would implode, millions would lose coverage, coverage for millions more would be diminished," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "Our healthcare system would be in such a deep hole that repair would be nearly impossible. In fact, passing repeal and having it go into effect two years later is in many ways worse than the Republican healthcare bill that was just rejected by my Republican colleagues."

Eleven governors, including five Republicans, five Democrats and one independent, also came out against a straight repeal, a move likely to cause further trouble for the plan. They said in a joint statement that the Senate should "immediately reject" a plan to repeal Obamacare.

The measure McConnell plans to bring to the floor is one that both the House and Senate passed in 2015 that would be close to a full repeal of Obamacare after a two-year phaseout.

The repeal vote in 2015, however, was mostly symbolic to prove to the GOP base that Senators supported dismantling the ACA because they knew full well that it would not be signed into law while Barack Obama was president. As expected, Obama vetoed the legislation.

"President Trump will sign it now," McConnell said.

After the bill collapsed on Monday night, Trump said that he'd like to see a repeal-only bill.

McConnell's move is a sign of frustration for the Senate leader who was unable to bring together his caucus on health care.

Conservatives disliked McConnell's bill because it didn't do enough to bring down premiums and provide enough choice in the insurance market. Some also opposed because it didn't repeal all of the Obamacare taxes and kept in place tax credits to help people purchase insurance.

For their part, moderates disliked the bill because of deep cuts to Medicaid and because the tax credits offered would lead to higher out-of-pocket costs for many in the individual market.

A vote on a full repeal will is supported by conservatives, however, who have long lobbied for it.

"I’m happy that we’re getting a chance to repeal, and replace, go back to the 2015 bill," said Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala.

But that puts moderates, including at least two who are up for re-election in 2018, in a difficult spot. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., opposed the first version of the Senate bill because of the cuts to Medicaid. A full repeal would also mean a loss of insurance and Medicaid for people in Nevada.

At least one Republican senator has questioned McConnell's leadership. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., wouldn't say if he still had faith in McConnell, adding that he's been frustrated by the secretive process and that McConnell was selling different components of the bill to different factions in the party, including telling moderates that Medicaid cuts were so far down the road that they would never go into effect.

"This was the Senate’s responsibility," Johnson told reporters. "I tried to encourage my colleagues in leadership to follow that process but we followed a political process and it hasn’t been particularly successful."

But other senators ran to McConnell's defense. "I think the majority leader is trying to keep all the frogs in the wheelbarrow, and it’s a tough job, but he’s doing a good job," Sen. Murkowksi said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference Tuesday that he would prefer a bill that would also offer a replacement for Obamacare but that the Senate needs to act. "We would like to see the Senate move on something," Ryan said.