Healthcare

Senate won't vote on ObamaCare repeal bill

Senate Republicans have decided to not vote on their latest ObamaCare repeal legislation, signaling a collapse in their last-ditch effort to kill off President Obama's signature law.

"We don't have the votes so it's probably best we don't do the vote," said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) after the GOP conference met at its regular weekly luncheon. "We've lost this battle, but we're going to win the war."

The last-ditch bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would dismantle ObamaCare's insurance subsidy program and Medicaid expansion and convert their funding into block grants to states.

"We don't have the votes," Cassidy acknowledged after meeting with his colleagues on Tuesday for more than an hour.

"We made the decision since we don't have the votes, we're going to postpone it," he added, expressing disappointment.

Graham said the health care debate will resume after Congress tries to move a tax reform package and expressed confidence his bill will eventually muster 50 votes.

"It's not if, only a matter of when," he said, adding that with more "attention" and "time," the bill could eventually become law.

In the meantime, Graham and Cassidy plan to tour the country to build support.

"We're going to take our show on the road," Graham said.

Graham and Cassidy came a lot closer to success than many would have anticipated just two weeks ago.

In the end, they couldn't convince several of their colleagues, conservatives and centrists alike, to go along with their plan.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) delivered the final death blow on Monday, announcing she could not support the bill because of its cuts to Medicaid and its lack of protections for people with pre-existing conditions, a big issue that the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel used to criticize the bill.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was also a "no" vote. He said the bill would have left too much of ObamaCare in place.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would be voting no on Friday, in large part because of a process he said was rushed and excluded Democrats.

It was also unclear if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) would vote for the bill.

After the decision to not hold the vote, he said there was more work to be done.

"I think we're close and we need to continue working," he said.

The rush on the Graham-Cassidy bill came in part because of a Sept. 30 deadline for using budgetary rules that prevented Democrats from filibustering the legislation.

Collins (Maine) urged colleagues to resume bipartisan negotiations in the Senate Health Committee between Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

"I think the best route is for us to resume the hearings in the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee that we were doing before we were diverted by Graham-Cassidy," Collins told reporters.

She said "it would be helpful if the vice president outlined his support for resuming the hearings in the HELP Committee and the negotiations that were making such good progress," ahead of a Republican lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Senate Republicans should "continue to negotiate until we get it solved."

But Lankford does not want the health-care debate combined with the upcoming tax-reform debate.

Instead, he said that colleagues should continue to negotiate behind the scenes on replacing ObamaCare while a projected $1.5 trillion tax package takes center stage.

"We need to keep the two separate but both have to keep going," he said. "You can't not do health-care issues when everybody around the country are facing double-digit [premium] increases and hospitals are merging," he said.

"Keep working behind the scenes until we get it resolved and ready for the floor."

There had been talk about including ObamaCare repeal in a new budget reconciliation measure that has been planned for tax reform. That would allow both ObamaCare repeal and tax reform to be brought up under special rues that would prevent a filibuster.

But that would also put tax reform at risk by pairing the issue with health care, and a number of key Republicans, including Cornyn and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), voiced opposition to that plan on Tuesday.

Nathaniel Weixel and Jordain Carney contributed to this story.

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