Two more US Republican senators announced their opposition Monday to their party’s efforts to revamp Obamacare, derailing the controversial legislation in its current form and potentially dealing a monumental setback to President Donald Trump.
Republican leaders are desperate for a major legislative victory this year — and keen to fulfill Trump’s campaign pledge to dismantle the 2010 health care reforms of his predecessor Barack Obama, formally called the Affordable Care Act.
But they had no votes to spare.
Republicans control 52 of the chamber’s 100 seats. Democrats are united against the controversial legislation, while Republicans Susan Collins and Rand Paul declared their opposition last week.
So when Senate conservatives Mike Lee and Jerry Moran announced late Monday they could not support the bill, the news sent shockwaves across Washington.
“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” Moran — who faced considerable opposition at home in Kansas to the measure — said in a statement, adding that the new bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care’s rising costs.”
For Lee, “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.”
Their defections mean that the bill has no chance of even getting a vote on the Senate floor unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to make significant changes to woo skeptics back into the fold.
“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Trump tweeted after Lee and Moran made their opposition known.
In a statement, McConnell acknowledged “regretfully” that his effort had failed. But he wasn’t giving up.
“So, in the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up … a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period,” he said, without setting a date.
“Inaction is not an option,” added a White House spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We look forward to Congress continuing to work toward a bill the president can sign to end the Obamacare nightmare.”
Over the weekend, McConnell delayed a vote to proceed on the bill, after Senator John McCain, 80, underwent surgery to remove a blood clot above his eye and said he would recuperate at home in Arizona for at least a week.
But McCain’s absence is now a moot point.
Several Republicans had already expressed concern that the new bill could slash funding for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and the disabled.
The new bill would gradually roll back the program, a move that some Republicans warn could lead to millions losing coverage.
The latest defections also show that conservatives are frustrated that the new bill does not repeal the Obamacare taxes.
The Democratic reaction was swift.
This failure is proof “that the core of this bill is unworkable,” said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer.
Republicans should instead “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.”
‘Wheels off the bus’
Republican leaders are eager to notch a major victory for Trump in Congress as he nears the six-month mark of his presidency.
Congress could also address tax reform and infrastructure – but the Senate must first deal with a logjam of urgent business, including whether to raise the federal borrowing limit.
Some fear that repealing Obamacare could adversely impact millions of Americans on Medicaid, or make health costs soar for people with pre-existing health conditions.
There is little institutional support for the bill, and even less for an amendment introduced by Senator Ted Cruz that would allow insurers to offer bare-bones plans that do not comply with Obamacare’s coverage requirements.
The chief executives of America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association called it “simply unworkable in any form.”
A Post poll released Sunday showed Americans preferred Obamacare to the Republican plan by 50 percent to 24 percent.
Despite the Republican setback, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said his Republican colleagues will not easily give up.
“There’s a couple wheels off the bus right now,” Murphy told MSNBC after the announcement from Lee and Moran.
But “they are not going to give up on it,” he added.