WASHINGTON • US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is delaying plans to begin debating a controversial healthcare Bill this week, after Republican Senator John McCain said he would be back home recovering from unexpected surgery.
"While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act," said Mr McConnell last Saturday.
Even before the delay, Mr McConnell was facing very difficult odds. A revised version of the Bill he released earlier last week quickly drew two firm no votes - from senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine - leaving the Kentucky Republican with no margin of error. To get the 50 votes he needs, he cannot lose a single additional Republican.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to issue its estimate of the new plan's impact on health coverage and the federal budget deficit as early as today.
Republicans are hoping the report will look better than an earlier CBO estimate, which said the plan would cause 22 million Americans to lose their insurance by 2026.
The delay will give the CBO more time to score Mr McConnell's latest Bill, although it is not clear if it will be enough to allow them to fully examine a new amendment from Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow insurers to offer stripped-down plans that exclude people with pre-existing conditions, charge women more, and offer far skimpier benefits.
While the change complicates Mr McConnell's plans, it also buys him time to shore up more support among a number of holdouts, including senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dean Heller of Nevada and Rob Portman of Ohio.
Mr McCain's office said that after a routine physical examination, he underwent surgery last Friday to remove a blood clot from above his left eye at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix.
Mr McConnell last Thursday revised a proposal that would replace Obamacare with an alternative that includes deep cuts to Medicaid, shores up the individual insurance market and repeals the Affordable Care Act's mandates that individuals have health coverage and that most employers provide it.
The new Bill would add US$70 billion (S$96 billion) to state stability and innovation funds, leave intact Obamacare tax increases on the wealthy, and put US$45 billion towards addressing the opioid epidemic.
Mr McCain has said he is concerned about the impact of proposed Medicaid cuts on his home state, and last Thursday said that he could not say if he would support Mr McConnell's new Bill.