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McConnell: Senate probably moving on from ObamaCare repeal

McConnell: Senate probably moving on from ObamaCare repeal
© Camille Fine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees Trump has not invited Democrats, media to state dinner: report MORE (R-Ky.) said Thursday that the Senate will likely be moving on from ObamaCare repeal next year. 

"Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate," McConnell told NPR. "We'll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we'll probably move on to other issues."

The Senate Republican leader will see his majority shrink to 51-49 once Alabama Democrat Doug Jones is seated in January. 

McConnell told NPR that Republicans have already taken the "heart" out of the health-care law by repealing ObamaCare's individual mandate in the tax legislation they passed this week.

That echoes remarks from President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlynn to campaign for Montana GOP Senate candidate Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone Decline in EPA enforcement won't keep climate bill from coming MORE, who on Wednesday said the tax bill "essentially" repeals ObamaCare.

“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means ObamaCare is being repealed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “We have essentially repealed ObamaCare, and we will come up with something much better.”

McConnell said the Senate would shift its focus next year to stabilizing the insurance markets. He noted the commitments he made to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign MORE (R-Maine) to support passage of two bipartisan bills aimed at shoring up ObamaCare early next year. 

"There will be some adjustments that have to be made. I’ve committed to Sen. Collins, for example, that we can figure a way forward to help her. And she was a supporter of getting rid of the individual mandate, but we want to steady the insurance markets if we can," he said.

Republicans had talked of returning to ObamaCare repeal in 2018 after their push to repeal the law collapsed in September.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Republicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Rand Paul under pressure as Pompeo hunts for votes MORE (R-S.C.), a main author of an ObamaCare repeal and replacement bill this year, quickly pushed back on McConnell's comments. 

"To those who believe — including Senate Republican leadership — that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare — well you are sadly mistaken," he tweeted.    

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanScalise released from hospital after planned surgery GOP sold Americans a bill of goods with tax reform law Impeaching Rosenstein? Some Republicans are talking about it MORE (R-Wis.) said earlier this month that he does want to "revisit" ObamaCare, but did not give a timeframe for doing so. 

Still, Ryan and Trump have said the GOP should focus on welfare reform next year, which could put ObamaCare on the back burner.

McConnell said he wants to work on bipartisan issues next year.

A GOP move away from repeal would mean that core elements of ObamaCare, including its subsidies to help people buy coverage and its expansion of Medicaid, would remain in place. 

About 20 million people have gained coverage through ObamaCare when the law's Medicaid expansion is included. The Trump administration announced Thursday that 8.8 million people had signed up for ObamaCare plans for 2018, nearly matching the last enrollment total. 

The repeal of the individual mandate does take out a core element of the law and one of the least popular aspects of it. Republicans say the move means people will no longer have the burden of a tax when they choose not to buy coverage. 

Democrats and many health-care groups have warned repealing the law's individual mandate would destabilize markets by removing an incentive for healthy people to sign up.

The GOP's pivot to stabilizing the markets, though, could help make up for that. A bill from Collins and Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes Scott ramps up spending to million in Florida Senate race Overnight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign MORE (D-Fla.), for example, would provide funding aimed at bringing down premiums known as reinsurance. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe risk of kicking higher ed reauthorization down the road Maternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes MORE (R-Tenn.) said he spoke with Trump earlier Thursday about that bill and another one — which he sponsored with Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThe risk of kicking higher ed reauthorization down the road Trump admin announces abstinence-focused overhaul of teen pregnancy program Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (D-Wash.). — aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare through funding other payments to insurers, and he said the president was supportive.

- This story was updated at 4:02 p.m.