3 senators voice opposition to GOP push to repeal Obamacare

Updated July 18, 2017 - 4:08 pm

WASHINGTON — Just hours after their health care bill collapsed, Republicans suffered a second defeat on Tuesday when straight repeal of Obamacare was opposed by three women GOP senators, essentially dooming the legislation.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposed repealing the current health system without an alternative to provide coverage.

A bipartisan group of governors, including Republican Brian Sandoval of Nevada, also issued a statement that urged the Senate to reject the repeal bill and work to forge a bipartisan solution that stabilizes the insurance markets.

“This could leave millions of Americans without coverage,” the governors wrote.

The apparent demise of the Senate health care bill denies President Donald Trump his first legislative victory on an issue that was a staple of his presidential campaign.

“Let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier,” Trump said at the White House. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you, the Republicans are not going to own it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the repeal-first strategy Tuesday, following the collapse of the GOP health care bill and social media messages from Trump urging Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

“I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said.

“In the coming days, the Senate will take up and vote on a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable, two-year transition period as we work toward patient-centered health care,” he said. Later, he said a vote would come early next week.

New bill runs into trouble

The new bill, however, was immediately in trouble as moderate Republicans came out in opposition.

Collins, Capito and Murkowski said they could not vote to bring the repeal-only bill to the floor without providing assurances to people, doctors, hospitals and other sectors of the medical industry.

With only a 52-48 majority, the Republican defections appeared to be enough to block the bill from debate.

“Trump blamed Democrats “and a few Republicans” for the death of the health care legislation.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was GOP leaders who took up the repeal and replacement legislation under budget reconciliation rules to pass the bill with just a 51-vote majority.

That bill collapsed when four Republicans — conservatives and moderates — defected for differing reasons.

Schumer said the repeal-only bill would make insurance markets more unstable and put the health care of millions of Americans at risk.

“Passing repeal without a replacement would be a disaster,” Schumer said.

The bipartisan group of 11 governors agreed. They urged an immediate effort to control costs, stabilize markets and seek a bipartisan approach to health care reform that includes more input from states.

“The health reform debate is by no means over,” said Dr. David Barbe, American Medical Association president. “Congress must begin a collaborative process that produces a bipartisan approach to improve health care in our country.”

Barbe said action is needed to immediately stabilize the individual/nongroup health insurance marketplace, and then long-term measures must be put in place to address unsustainable health care costs and providing affordable coverage.

Bill similar to 2015 version

The repeal-only bill is similar to legislation that Republicans passed in 2015, when President Barack Obama was in the White House.

FreedomWorks, a conservative group, urged McConnell to hold a vote that would hold Republicans accountable.

“Conservatives meant what they said when they voted for the 2015 Obamacare repeal bill, and they have stayed true,” said Jason Pye with FreedomWorks.

Pye added that some Republican lawmakers who voted for the 2015 bill, like Capito, Murkowski, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., have since “waffled now that Obama can’t give them cover with a veto.”

Heller did not immediately say how he planned to vote on a procedural motion to bring the GOP bill to the floor, or the repeal-only legislation if it advances.

The GOP health care bill unveiled in June ran into immediate trouble when centrist and conservative senators defected from the legislation, which was written by staff and a group of lawmakers behind closed doors.

A non-partisan Congressional Budget Office analysis found the bill would have cut $772 billion from Medicaid and leave 22 million without insurance after a 10-year period.

Heller, in a Las Vegas news conference with Sandoval, said he would oppose the legislation because it would leave millions of Americans and “tens of thousands” of Nevadans without health care coverage.

McConnell pulled the bill to avoid an embarrassing defeat, and reintroduced a revised version after the July 4 recess.

That bill also ran into immediate opposition. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a conservative, said the bill did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare mandates and taxes. He was joined on Monday by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

Collins opposed the revised bill because of the impact of Medicaid cuts on rural health care in Maine, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services and cancer screenings to low-income women.

Following the collapse of the bill, McConnell moved immediately to move new repeal-only legislation.

After a GOP caucus luncheon that included Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell did not waver from his stated intent to hold a vote on the legislation that GOP lawmakers had passed in 2015. But he conceded that the difficulties in 2017 were much greater.

“This has been a very challenging experience for all of us,” McConnell told reporters.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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