Washington • Conceding defeat in the latest effort to repeal Obamacare, Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday canceled a vote on a Republican health-care plan that couldn’t attract enough support to pass, ending – for now – a seven-year-old Republican crusade to jettison the law.
The “health care [fight], as far as I am concerned, is over,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters, noting the Senate will now pivot to overhauling the U.S. tax code. “Tax reform is where we have to do the job.”
With opposition from at least three GOP senators, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not bring up a bill this week as planned. The Senate also failed several times earlier this year to pass legislation to end Obamacare’s mandate that individuals buy insurance and changing funding formulas for Medicaid.
Senate leaders had until Saturday (the end of the month) to use a parliamentary tactic to pass legislation repealing and replacing Obamacare with a simple majority. Future efforts, for the most part, will require a 60-vote threshold to get to final passage of any legislation — a margin that can’t be reached without some Democratic votes.
The latest GOP bill would have eliminated the individual mandate to buy insurance and allowed states to apply for waivers for requirements that insurers cover pre-existing conditions and essential benefits such as hospitalization, pregnancy and birth control. Analysts said it would have resulted in millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who co-sponsored the latest health-care bill, said he wouldn’t cease efforts to change Obamacare – formally called the Affordable Care Act – but acknowledged it would have to wait.
“We’re coming back to this after taxes,” Graham said, noting he hoped for a “better process” next time around.
Republicans across the country had campaigned on promises to get rid of the 2010 law that has expanded coverage for millions of Americans but became the bogeyman of conservative politics. The GOP-led House had voted more than 50 times to end Obamacare but measures in the Senate, where Republicans hold only 52 seats, faced a hurdle too high with defections from a smattering of members.
“We don’t have the votes,” admitted Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., the other sponsor of the health-care bill. “Am I disappointed? Absolutely.”
Neither Hatch nor his Utah colleague, Sen. Mike Lee had said how they would have voted on the legislation.
Some Democrats and health-care advocates heralded the failure of the GOP plan. Some even gloated. The Democratic minority on the House Ways and Means Committee tweeted a gif of the band NSYNC singing, “Bye Bye Bye.”
“President Trump and our Republican colleagues should learn that the American people do not want to cut health care,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “If they try it a third time, they will fail again for the simple reason that the public is against what they want to do.”
That said, Schumer said Democrats were willing to work with Republicans to draft a bipartisan fix to the health-care system, noting that there are ways the two sides can work together.
“Democrats are at the table,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
With the health-care debate stymied, the big issue now facing Washington will be reforming the tax code, which hasn’t been substantially updated in some 30 years.
“We’ve got to put our full focus on tax reform,” Hatch said Tuesday.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch will be one of the top Republicans leading the charge on that issue.
Hatch and other leaders of tax-writing committees are expected to announce a framework on tax reform Wednesday.
The tax code rewrite could be used as a vehicle to change Obamacare, though adding that issue to an already complicated effort could also poison attempts to pass meaningful reform.