Alabama result deals heavy blow to ObamaCare repeal

Alabama result deals heavy blow to ObamaCare repeal
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The surprise election of a Democrat in Alabama has dealt a major blow to Republican hopes of reviving ObamaCare repeal next year.

Republicans already failed multiple times this year to pass an ObamaCare replacement through the Senate with a 52-48 majority. Next year, thanks to the election of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama, their margin for error will be even slimmer, at 51-49.

Several Republican lawmakers acknowledged on Wednesday that the chances of bringing back ObamaCare repeal had taken a major hit.

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“Well, certainly, I think if you have one less Republican it makes it tougher,” said Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHill.TV poll: Majority of Republicans say Trump best represents the values of the GOP Meadows says FBI made 'right' decision firing Strzok Republicans have spent .5 million at Trump properties since he took office: report MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, though he noted that perhaps the greater problem is a handful of Republicans already in Congress who opposed the effort.

 

“I’m still hoping. I don’t know that I’m optimistic it will get done, but I certainly am hoping, yes,” Meadows said of trying again.

Asked about the effect of the Alabama result, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work Ex-Trump adviser: Shutdown 'not worst idea in the world' MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said, “I don’t know if it makes it harder; it doesn’t make it easier.”

He said whether Republicans try again at repealing ObamaCare would depend on having enough support to pass a bill — something that has eluded them so far.

“It depends on if we have 50 votes for something,” Thune said.  

There were already doubts about whether Republicans would try ObamaCare repeal again in 2018, given that it is a midterm election year. The last push to scrap the health-care law triggered enormous public opposition, and none of the Senate Republicans who thwarted the measure have indicated a change of heart.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said the Alabama election “makes it slightly harder, but it’s not like it was easy before.”

He said Republican senators have discussed going back to ObamaCare repeal “a little bit,” but most recent discussion has been on taxes. 

“I’m ready to do it a third time, if necessary a fourth time, and if necessary a fifth and sixth and seventh until we get it done,” Kennedy said.

Republicans could have a chance to declare victory on health care this month, as the tax-reform bill that is now speeding toward passage would repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate.

But that might not be enough for President TrumpDonald John TrumpBrennan fires new shot at Trump: ‘He’s drunk on power’ Trump aides discussed using security clearance revocations to distract from negative stories: report Trump tried to dissuade Melania from 'Be Best' anti-bullying campaign: report MORE, who has talked of trying again on repeal, or for Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance Press needs to restore its credibility on FBI and Justice Department MORE (R-S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyEnergy Department clears ‘small-scale’ natural gas exports for fast approval GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave MORE (R-La.), who have drafted an ObamaCare replacement bill.

The White House said Wednesday it still wants Congress to repeal and replace ObamaCare next year.

“The Administration is confident Congress will come back to town in the new year and work to repeal and replace the Obamacare disaster,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket and many doctors won’t take patients who have it — Obamacare has failed. The American people deserve affordable, effective healthcare.”

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said Wednesday that “of course” the senator will still push to pass his health-care bill next year. 

“Obviously our margin is cut by one, so just mathematically, it’s going to be a little more challenging, but I hope not [impossible],” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders Hillicon Valley: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sits down with The Hill | Drama over naming DHS cyber office | Fallout over revoking Brennan's security clearance | Google workers protest censored search engine for China Name change eludes DHS cyber wing, spurring frustration MORE (R-Wis.), who is one of the main sponsors of the bill with Graham and Cassidy. 

“We’re dedicated to it; I think we’ve got a good chance,” he added.

Senators have still been talking about the Graham-Cassidy ObamaCare replacement bill, said Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOvernight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate 74 protesters charged at Capitol in protest of Kavanaugh Big Oil’s carbon capture tax credit betrayal MORE (R-N.D.), who added that he thinks Republicans “do have a shot” on health care next year. 

“I think we’re making progress on concepts like Graham-Cassidy and trying to make some modifications to get everybody on board,” Hoeven said.

However, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Trump nominee won't say if he supports funding agency he was selected to run MORE (Alaska), one of the three Republican senators to sink the repeal effort in July, said Wednesday that she does not want to go back to ObamaCare next year. She said Republicans should focus on an energy package and infrastructure.

“I’ve always felt that it would be good to start the new year with a focus on some issues that will bring the Senate together,” she said. 

Asked if that meant moving on from ObamaCare, she replied, “Yeah, I don’t think that that is a particular issue that brings us all together.”

Another moderate, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhite House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Overnight Defense: Pompeo creates 'action group' for Iran policy | Trump escalates intel feud | Report pegs military parade cost at M MORE (R-Maine), said Wednesday, “I personally don’t think that Graham-Cassidy’s the answer.” She pointed instead to bipartisan work in the Senate Health Committee.

Further complicating any potential effort to revive ObamaCare repeal next year is that Trump and House Republicans are eyeing a push for welfare reform. Republicans only get one shot at the fast-track process that allows a bill to pass the Senate without needing Democratic votes, so a welfare push could take precedence. (Both issues could be tackled at once, but it would be an immense political lift.)

“We’re looking very strongly at welfare reform, and that’ll all take place right after taxes,” Trump said last month. 

Meadows said Wednesday that welfare reform “probably will be” what the fast-track reconciliation process is used for next year. He argued that does not rule out also doing ObamaCare repeal in the package, though. “You just have to have everybody on board,” he said.

A House GOP aide said that in discussions among lawmakers, conservatives are pushing for reconciliation next year to include both welfare reform and ObamaCare repeal. 

It is possible other health-care elements, such as changes to Medicare or Medicaid, could be included under the welfare reform umbrella. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNew Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders House Dem: Party's aging leaders is 'a problem' Rand Paul to ask Trump to lift sanctions on Russian leaders MORE (R-Wis.) said this month that he wants to reform those programs next year. 

However, that push would also be extremely difficult with only 51 Republicans in the Senate.