WASHINGTON — Facing certain defeat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday scrapped a Senate vote this week on the latest version of the Obamacare repeal bill after three Republican senators announced they could not support it.
The collapse of the last-gasp effort by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) served as another setback to McConnell and President Donald Trump, one likely to frustrate supporters expecting them to fulfill their promise to end the Affordable Care Act.
“We don’t have the votes,” said Cassidy said after the Republicans met for their weekly lunch. “We’ve made the decision, since we don’t have the votes, we’ll postpone the vote.”
McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will now move on to an overhaul of the federal tax system and federal spending for next year. “We haven’t given up on changing the American health care system,” he said. “We aren’t going to be able to do it this week.”
Republicans faced a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill with a simple majority before expiration of a budget rule that allows them to avoid needing 60 votes to end a Democratic filibuster. “We basically ran out of time,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a sponsor of the bill.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump said in a meeting with House members from both parties that if Republicans “didn’t get repeal done,” he could work with Democrats on health care because you get a better deal if it is bipartisan, participant Rep. Richard Neal (R-Mass.) told The Associated Press.
Trump expressed disappointment with “certain so-called Republicans” whose opposition doomed the bill, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) but especially Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose no votes helped kill the repeal in July.
Democrats hailed the decision to cancel a vote and said it was time to get to work fixing the problems of the current health law, most urgently the need to stabilize individual health markets that serve about 18 million people.
“Today Americans breathe a sigh of relief because the health care of millions has been protected and preserved,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also warned that if the bill was resurrected later this Congress, it would suffer “the same fate.”
Schumer placed his hopes in resumption of bipartisan negotiations between Senate health committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), that were suspended last week for the Graham-Cassidy bill.
Alexander said in a statement that he’ll consult with Murray to see if a consensus in the Senate is possible “on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available” in the individual market for the next two years.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Murray, who noted that the deadline for insurers in many states to sign agreements to offer plans in the Obamacare marketplace is later this week.
“The clock is ticking. Democrats are at the table. And I hope Republican leaders will now allow us to get back to work on lowering costs for patients and families and stabilizing the markets,” Murray said. “We don’t have a minute to spare.”
Health insurers now are weighing what insurance plans to offer and how much to raise their premiums — possibly by as much as double figures — in the individual Obamacare markets in 2018 under the uncertainty created by Trump and Republican efforts at repeal.
Trump has made payments to insurers this month to help keep premiums lower in the individual markets, but refuses to guarantee what he will do over the next year. Murray charged that Trump is sabotaging Obamacare. Trump has long threatened to take actions to crash the Affordable Care Act to force Democrats to negotiate.