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McConnell Abandons Obamacare Repeal and Replace Effort

Announcement comes after Lee, Moran pulled support for health care bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still appears to be short of the votes to get to a health care measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still appears to be short of the votes to get to a health care measure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated July 18, 2017, 12:14 a.m. | Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug late Monday on the Republican effort to overhaul the U.S. health insurance system and pledged the chamber will now focus on only dismantling the 2010 health care law.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” the Kentucky Republican said.

His statement came after GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas said they did not support the latest Senate health care draft and would not vote for a motion to proceed. Lee and Moran joined Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine in opposition to the procedural motion, leaving McConnell without the votes needed to move forward on the Senate bill.

McConnell said the Senate will now take up the House-passed health care bill and amend it with legislation the Senate supported in 2015 to repeal the 2010 health care law “with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care.”

President Barack Obama previously vetoed the GOP’s repeal bill. McConnell did not say when a vote on the House bill would occur.

Before McConnell’s announcement on the next steps, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday night that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!”

The dramatic chain of events began after Lee tweeted he and Moran would not support “this version” of the bill.

“After conferring with trusted experts regarding the latest version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment, I have decided I cannot support the current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act,” Lee said in a statement. “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 was referring to a provision crafted by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would allow health insurers to sell cheaper plans alongside those that comply with more stringent requirements.

Moran said he continues to believe the 2010 health care law needs to be changed.

“There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it. This closed-door process has yielded the [Senate 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,” the Kansas Republican said in a statement.

Moran said the Senate “must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans.”

Opposition builds after delay

The Senate vote, which was delayed this week due to Sen. John McCain’s health complications, had been expected to take place once the Arizona Republican returns to Washington. It’s not clear when McCain, 80, will return but after the announcements by Moran and Lee, McCain also called for a different path forward.

“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,” he said in a statement.

The development came on the same night Trump was having dinner with other Senate Republicans, including Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah met with Trump earlier in the day, he told reporters.

Democrats have made it clear they won’t support anything that would repeal the law but indicated they would discuss changes to stabilize the health insurance marketplaces.

“Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer in a statement issued before McConnell announced next steps.

House Republicans are pushing McConnell to move in the opposite direction and pass a more extensive repeal of the law, as Congress did during the Obama administration. President Barack Obama vetoed that effort.

“Let’s put the same thing on President Trump’s desk that we put on President Obama’s desk,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina tweeted.

Additional Senate defections could come soon. Several lawmakers who have expressed concern over the current draft, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have yet to publicize their positions on the motion to proceed with the health care proposal.

Tensions were already boiling within the GOP conference as Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a vocal critic of McConnell’s closed-door strategy on the health care bill, said he was informed by GOP moderates that the majority leader assured them the Medicaid changes included in the updated draft would never go into effect.

McConnell, responding to those comments but before he announced he was pulling the bill, said he preferred “to speak for myself.”

“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,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.

John T. Bennett, Mary Ellen McIntire and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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