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McConnell’s scrambles after bid to repeal Obamacare fails

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scrambled Tuesday for another way to scrap Obamacare after his narrow Senate majority failed to provide enough support for his legislation or even for a resurrected repeal bill his party passed in 2015.

In a series of rebuffs, two conservative Republicans came out against McConnell’s bill late Monday, effectively dooming it, and after McConnell offered the 2015 bill as a replacement, three moderate Republicans said on Tuesday morning they couldn’t vote for it.

McConnell needs 50 of his 52 Republican senators to pass a health bill with the help of a vice presidential tiebreaker in the face of Democratic opposition, but has not been able to resolve differences between conservatives and moderates in his caucus.

The intraparty dissension this week dealt another setback to McConnell, the Republican Party and President Donald Trump and their quest to fulfill their seven years of campaign promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement,” McConnell said. But he later said he would hold a vote early next week on the 2015 bill.

“What we do have is a vote that many of us made two years ago at a time when the president of the United States would not sign the legislation that would repeal Obamacare and with a two-year delay to give us an opportunity to build something better on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposed McConnell’s first and second drafts of a health care bill because they did not fully repeal Obamacare, said he would vote for the 2015 repeal and delayed replacement bill, and urged all others who voted for it then to vote for it now.

“If you’re not willing to vote the same way you voted in 2015, then you need to go back home and you need to explain to Republicans why you’re no longer for repealing Obamacare,” he said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the other holdout against McConnell’s two drafts, voted against that bill two years ago and said Tuesday she could not vote for it now.

Two other Republican women, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted for the legislation in 2015, but said Tuesday they oppose it now.

“I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians,” Capito said in a statement. Murkowski told reporters, “To just say, ‘Repeal and trust us, we’re going to fix it in a couple of years,’ that’s not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaska families are feeling right now.”

McConnell said that if the measure fails to pass, Republicans will have to work with Democrats.

“We will have demonstrated that Republicans by themselves are not prepared at this particular point to do replacement,” McConnell said. “My suspicion is there will be hearings about the crisis that we have and we’ll have to see what the way forward is.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats are willing to work with Republicans, based on certain conditions.

“We’re ready to sit down right now — if Republicans abandon cuts to Medicaid, abandon huge tax breaks for the wealthy and agree to go through the regular order, through the committees, with hearings, onto the floor with time for amendments,” Schumer said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of Senate health committee, said, “However the votes come out on the health care bill, the Senate health committee has a responsibility during the next few weeks to hold hearings to continue exploring how to stabilize the individual market.”

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