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New GOP health bill lacks the votes to pass
GOP Sens. Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Mike Lee (Utah) announced on Monday night they will not support taking up a bill repealing and replacing ObamaCare, effectively blocking the legislation.
Their decision means Republicans in the Senate are well short of having the support to pass their legislation, and raises serious questions about whether President Trump will reach his goal of ending ObamaCare.
In light of Monday's challenges, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will try to separate ObamaCare repeal and replacement, closing the door on the chamber's current healthcare legislation.
"In the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up the House bill with the first amendment in order being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 and that was vetoed by then-President Obama: a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period," McConnell said in a statement.
The move means Senate Republicans will try to repeal and replace ObamaCare separately, reverting to a plan Senate GOP leadership initially proposed earlier this year, but had to abandon due to lack of support.
In announcing their opposition to the Senate draft, Moran and Lee both said the bill failed to do enough to lower premiums.
"This closed-door process has yielded the [bill], which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare's rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one," Moran said in a statement.
He added that the Senate "must now start fresh with an open legislative process," an indication that relatively minor changes to the current bill would not be enough to win his support. It may also indicate he wants hearings on a bill, which were absent from the process on the current measure.
Highlighting the challenges faced by McConnell, Lee argued the measure is not conservative enough, tugging in the opposite direction from moderates.
"In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations," the Utah Republican said in a statement.
Lee added on Twitter that he and Moran would not support proceeding to "this version" of the Senate GOP legislation, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, leaving the door open to additional changes.
Lee warned that a controversial amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) included in the bill does not go far enough. That amendment allows insurers to sell plans that don't fulfill ObamaCare's coverage mandates if they also sell plans that do.
Lee's announcement came after he distanced himself late last week from the Cruz-negotiated provision, which was a spin-off of an amendment he initially worked out with the Texas senator. But the Utah Republican quickly said that he had not "seen it or agreed to it."
Lee objects that the amendment still does not repeal ObamaCare's requirement that healthy and sick people be grouped in a "single risk pool," which he says would undermine the effectiveness of the amendment.
Moderates, many health experts and major health insurance companies are warning that premiums would spike for the people remaining in the ObamaCare plans. Any move by McConnell to address Lee's concerns and move the bill further to the right would risk losing the support of key moderate senators, many of whom are already wary of the legislation.
The Monday evening announcement put four GOP senators officially on record against the bill and left McConnell without enough support to bring up it to the floor, forcing him to seek a plan b.
With a slim 52-seat majority, he could only afford to lose two GOP senators and Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Rand Paul (Ky.) were already expected to vote no.
In a tweet, President Trump said "Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate," adding that, "Dems will join in!"
Paul seemed to back Trump's call in a tweet of his own, saying he and Trump discussed a "clean repeal" last week.
The White House also weighed in with a Monday night statement, saying, "Inaction is not an option."
"Insurance markets continue to collapse, premiums continue to rise, and Obamacare remains a failure. Inaction is not an option," a White House spokesperson said in a statement.
"We look forward to Congress continuing to work toward a bill the President can sign to end the Obamacare nightmare and restore quality care at affordable prices."
After the news broke, the chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and former chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), quickly tweeted that Republicans should instead take up and pass the repeal bill sent to President Obama's desk last congressional session.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) quickly pounced on Lee-Moran announcement, saying it was time for Senate Republicans to take a "new approach."
"Getting money/power out of Washington & returning it to the states is the antidote to 1-SIZE FITS ALL approach embraced in Obamacare," he tweeted.
Graham rolled out a proposal with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) late last week that would shift the majority of federal funding and decision making on ObamaCare directly to the states.
They both said earlier Monday night that they had continued to discuss their proposal over the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) immediately seized on the announcement as "proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable," while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he's "delighted" to see GOP senators fleeing from the chamber's ObamaCare repeal-and-replace plan.
Remarks on Monday from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) illustrated how McConnell risked losing the votes of conservatives as he courts centrists with his new plan.
Johnson accused the GOP leader of a "breach of trust" for privately telling moderate senators that some of the bill's cuts to Medicaid wouldn't go into effect.
"I've confirmed those [remarks] from senators [who] those comments were made to, so I find those comments very troubling," the Wisconsin Republican told reporters Monday night.
He added that "last week I was strongly urging colleagues to vote motion to proceed, I'm not doing that right now."
Medicaid has emerged as a key sticking point. Though conservatives want to use the repeal bill to enact entitlement reform and push tougher requirements for the program, moderates from Medicaid expansion states are worried the legislation's dramatic overhaul will leave their constituents unable to get insurance.
McConnell pushed back earlier Monday night, saying Johnson doesn't speak for him and that he supports the Medicaid cuts currently in the bill.
"I prefer to speak for myself, and my view is that the Medicaid per capita cap with a responsible growth rate that is sustainable for taxpayers is the most important long-term reform in the bill. That is why it has been in each draft we have released," he said.
McConnell was also forced to delay a vote expected for this week after a surprise announcement that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would spend the week in Arizona recovering from surgery, depriving McConnell of the simple majority needed.
It's not clear when the Senate would try to pass repeal legislation. The upper chamber is expected to be in session until Aug. 11, before leaving town until early September.
In a Monday night statement from Arizona, McCain called for a return to regular order as Congress goes back to the drawing board.
"One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare's failure," he said in a statement from Arizona, where he is recovering from surgery.
"The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation's governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care."
The White House is meeting with several GOP senators, who each support the bill, on Monday night. But those meetings felt less important with the announcements from Moran and Lee.
[Source: By Jordain Carney, The Hill, Washington, 17Jul17]
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