Senate GOP effort to undo Obamacare collapses

Senate now may turn to bipartisan negotiations over health law

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Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The latest Republican effort to unwind the Affordable Care Act collapsed Monday as a third GOP senator announced her opposition and left the proposal short of the votes needed to pass.

While one top GOP senator held out a possibility the Senate still might vote on the bill this week, others accepted the reality that the push had sputtered out after Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, joined two colleagues in opposition.

“Everybody knows that’s going to fail,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who led a raucous, five-hour hearing on the bill Monday. “You don’t have one Democrat vote for it. So it’s going to fail.”

The development amounts to a massive setback to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Donald Trump, who spent the past week trying to rally support for a last-ditch attempt to fulfill a seven-year Republican promise before an Oct. 1 Senate rules change opens GOP efforts to a filibuster.

But the effort lost much of its steam in the last four days, as it became clear the new proposal had not resolved the same disagreements that plagued Republicans in a failed July push.

Collins announced she could not back the measure — which would redistribute federal health care funding across the country and sharply curb spending on Medicaid — moments after a much-anticipated Congressional Budget Office analysis forecast that “millions” of Americans would lose coverage by 2026 if it was enacted.

Two GOP senators — Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona — already had come out against the bill. A fourth Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, indicated through aides he could not back the bill in its current form because it does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare.

Republicans hold a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate and can lose only two votes from their party and still pass legislation with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Pence.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, did not rule out the possibility of holding a Senate vote on the proposal anyway. Many Republicans feel pressure from their voters to keep pushing to repeal the law.

“There are a lot of people who want to vote yes and be recorded as voting yes,” Cornyn said.

A series of last-minute changes over the weekend didn’t shift any votes in the bill’s favor. And the Congressional Budget Office’s report worsened the bill’s chances by noting it was impossible to forecast the number of Americans likely to lose coverage but that “the direction of the effect is clear.” The report also estimated a $1 trillion loss of federal funding for Medicaid by 2026.

Collins said Monday the administration lobbied her hard and Trump had called her.

“I told him that I would go back and look at the numbers one more time, but I was straightforward with him that I was not likely to be a yes vote,” she said, adding the process was too hasty. “Last night, a whole new bill came out, which to me epitomizes the problem.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell thanked key bill sponsors Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., but suggested that their work had stalled out.

The contentious debate erupted into public view Monday afternoon as protesters chanted so loudly at the hearing’s outset that Hatch was forced to temporarily adjourn as police officers arrested and removed several of them.

“No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!” screamed one woman in a wheelchair.

Graham, who spoke intensely in support of the bill’s approach before the Senate panel, said it reflected his trust in politicians who have more direct interaction with their constituents. “My goal is to get the money and power out of Washington,” he said, “closer to where people live.”

Democrats continued to rail against the measure during the hearing. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., was especially animated, raising his voice as he questioned the motivations of Republicans.

“Why are we here, colleagues, making matters worse?” he asked.

Republican leaders now could call on Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to revive negotiations with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on a bipartisan package to stabilize the insurance marketplaces. The pair appeared to be reaching an agreement on a plan to guarantee subsidies to help cover out-of-pocket expenses for low-income people in exchange for limited waivers giving states more flexibility.

Many Republicans, however, oppose legislation for the subsidies without reforming the insurance market.

“If you mean by fixing Obamacare just dishing more money out to insurance companies, then no,” Cornyn said.

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