WASHINGTON (Bloomberg, Reuters) – US President Donald Trump blamed Democrats in Congress – and a few Republicans – on Tuesday (July 18) for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to abandon efforts to pass a broad Republican-only replacement of Obamacare and opting instead to seek a straight vote on repeal.
“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans,” Trump tweeted. “Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!”
He also said he was willing to “let Obamacare fail” before moving forward on a replacement, which may be delayed by as long as two years under the move Mr McConnell is considering.
"As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!" Mr Trump wrote.
A repeal without a replacement is almost certain to get blocked in the Senate as well. The inability to deliver on seven years of GOP promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be the biggest failure yet for Mr Trump and Republicans since they won control of Congress and the White House.
Mr McConnell’s move came after two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the Republican leader’s plan, which he drafted largely in secret. The defections by Mr Mike Lee of Utah and Mr Jerry Moran of Kansas, in addition to previous opposition by GOP Senators Mr Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ms Susan Collins of Maine, were enough to sink the measure.
Mr Lee and Mr Moran said in statements they wouldn’t support Mr McConnell’s Bill because it didn’t go far enough to address the rising cost of healthcare.
“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” Mr Moran said in a statement on Twitter. He criticised the way the healthcare Bill was written through a “closed-door process” and said the Senate must “start fresh” with open hearings and debate.
Mr Lee said the latest version didn’t repeal Obamacare taxes and regulations or lower premiums.
Republicans are expected to discuss how to pick up the pieces on Tuesday, when they gather for their regular policy lunch, which is often attended by Vice President Mike Pence. Several senators have made clear that they want GOP leaders to pursue an alternative that would require working with Democrats.
The defections of Mr Moran and Mr Lee, two Tea Party-backed senators, is a stunning blow to Mr McConnell and Mr Trump, who campaigned on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he called a disaster.
“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Mr Trump said on Twitter on Monday (July 17) night. Mr Pence echoed Mr Trump, tweeting, “Repeal now and replace later. Inaction is not an option.”
That won’t be easy. While Congress last year passed a repeal Bill, they did so knowing it would be vetoed by President Barack Obama. This year, now that it could become law, such a proposal has drawn little support among Republican senators, with the exception of those in its most conservative wing.
Such a defeat may be part of a plan by a Republican leadership team that has expressed a desire to begin moving on to other matters, including an overhaul of the tax code, a boost in the nation’s debt ceiling and next year’s spending bills.
On the health Bill, Mr McConnell was left facing an increasingly narrow path, with no apparent way to win over conservative and moderate holdouts seeking to pull the Bill in opposite directions.
A sizable group of Republicans from Medicaid expansion states had yet to commit to the Bill either, and Mr Lee’s push for a broader repeal of Obamacare’s insurance regulations risked pushing away the votes of senators like Ms Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mr Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who have been among the most vocal in pushing to continue providing protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
A straight repeal Bill could look even worse for them. The Congressional Budget Office in January said repealing the Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies while keeping other Obamacare regulations intact would cause many insurance markets to implode. That would result in an additional 32 million uninsured and premiums roughly doubling, with 75 per cent of the country lacking insurers entirely in the individual market in a decade.
Some Republicans said they were ready to redouble their efforts to repeal Obamacare.
“We can because we must. This is kind of a no-fail moment,” Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said on Tuesday on Fox News. “Let’s get all the people that disagree in one room and let’s hammer this all out.”
House Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan of Ohio told CNN on Tuesday that he supported voting on a straight repeal of Obamacare and dismissed the idea that such a Bill lacked enough votes.
“If you just went with the conventional wisdom, the underdog would never win,” he said. “So let’s actually put it out there and see what happens when the roll call is really called.”
Democrats immediately blasted the idea. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut called it “a humanitarian disaster of incomprehensible scale".
Writing on Twitter, he said, “Full repeal with no replacement will cause markets to fail. No insurer will stay in an exchange that is disappearing in 24 months.”
Other GOP senators have been talking about a new approach to health legislation, with Mr Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeting again on Monday about his latest proposal with Mr Cassidy to keep most of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes in place but give states far more freedom on what to do with the money.
Mr McConnell’s plan already was teetering on the brink after Senator John McCain’s unexpected surgery late on Friday left him one short of the votes needed to start debate this week. The majority leader had said the Bill wouldn’t be considered until Mr McCain returned. Republicans control the Senate 52-48.
Mr McCain, in Arizona to recover from the operation, issued a statement saying the GOP shouldn’t repeat Democrats’ strategy of passing Obamacare without any votes from the other party.
Congress must “hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors” to pass a healthcare plan, Mr McCain said.
House conservatives on Monday immediately renewed calls for both chambers to enact a straight repeal of Obamacare, and leave the replacement debate for later.
“Expect growing calls from conservatives for Congress to take up full repeal Bill that passed under Obama,” Ms Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter.
Mr Lee’s and Mr Moran’s statements came shortly after Mr Trump met privately to discuss strategy with a small group of Republican senators, including other members of Mr McConnell’s leadership team.
Mr Trump said in a July 12 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson that if the measure didn’t pass the Senate, “It would be very bad. I will be very angry about it and a lot of people will be very upset.”
Mr McConnell spoke of the potential of moving to a scaled-back, bipartisan version of health legislation last month when an earlier version of his GOP-only Bill collapsed because it lacked enough support.
He told a Rotary Club in Glasgow, Kentucky, that if Republicans can’t “agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur.”