GOP's 'skinny repeal' bill rejected in late night vote
WASHINGTON — The Senate dealt a devastating blow to Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, defeating a GOP “skinny repeal” bill.
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) joined with Democrats to oppose the measure, a major loss for President Trump and the Republican congressional agenda.
McCain, who earlier on had voted for a motion to proceed to debate the skinny repeal bill after returning to Washington following surgery for a brain tumor, held out, and during a news conference criticized the partisan process that led to the after-midnight vote on July 28.
His surprise decision to vote no came after a prolonged drama on the Senate floor. McCain engaged in a lengthy, animated conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who had come to the Capitol expecting to cast the tie-breaking vote for the bill.
Later, McCain issued a statement offering a more thorough explanation of his vote, saying that he has always believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that “increases competition, lowers costs and improves care for the American people.”
McCain also said the “skinny repeal” that he voted down “would not accomplish those goals.” While it would repeal “some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations,” McCain said it didn’t offer an adequate replacement. He called for committee work, hearings and bipartisan input in the weeks ahead, the same tone he had taken during a previous repeal and replace effort that had collapsed.
The 51-49 vote was a setback for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has nurtured his reputation as a master tactician and spent the last three months trying to devise a repeal bill that could win support from members of his caucus.
Speaking after the vote, McConnell lamented the inability of the GOP to fulfill its long-term campaign pledge. “This is clearly a disappointing moment,” McConnell said. “Our constituents have suffered through an awful lot under Obamacare. We thought they deserved better. It’s why I and many of my colleagues did as we promised and voted to repeal this failed law. We told our constituents we would vote that way. And when the moment came, most of us did.”
In his closing remarks, he said that “it’s time to move on” — although it was unclear if he meant that the Senate will move on from repealing Obamacare.
Unlike previous setbacks, the defeat of this bill had the ring of finality. After the result was announced, the Senate quickly moved on to routine business.
The “skinny repeal” bill would still have had broad effects on health care. The bill would have increased the number of people who are uninsured by 15 million next year compared with current law, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Premiums for people buying health insurance on their own would have increased roughly 20%, CBO said.
In addition, the bill would have made it much easier for states to waive federal requirements that health insurance plans provide consumers with a minimum set of benefits such as maternity care and prescription drugs. It would have eliminated funds provided by the ACA for a wide range of prevention and public health programs.
Even some senators who voted for the bill conceded that its enactment could have been disastrous. It would have repealed the mandate that most Americans have insurance, without another mechanism to push Americans to maintain insurance coverage. Under those circumstances, healthy people could wait to buy insurance until they are sick. The insurance markets would become dominated by the chronically ill, and premiums would soar, insurers warned. America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and the American Medical Association all expressed similar concerns.
“We are not celebrating, we are relieved,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said after the vote. He repeated sentiments from a speech McCain made before and called for bipartisanship. If the Senate could start working “the way it had always worked, with both sides to blame for deterioration, we will do a better job for our country,” Schumer added.
Video courtesy of C-Span.