Senate Republicans will head into the July 4 recess without having repealed ObamaCare after deciding on Tuesday to delay the legislation when it became clear it lacked the votes for passage.
The decision sets up a situation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (R-Ky.) had long sought to avoid: a recess where his members will take hits over the healthcare fight and a July that might now be taken up by the healthcare debate.
The GOP leader put on a brave face after an emergency meeting at the White House with President Trump and his conference, telling reporters that his members just needed a little bit more time.
“We made good progress,” he told reporters after the roughly hourlong meeting in the East Room.
“Everyone around the table is interested in getting to yes — is interested in getting an outcome,” he said. “Because we know the status quo is simply unacceptable, unsustainable and no action is just not an option.”
The optimistic tone belies skepticism within McConnell’s conference over whether a bill can win 50 Republican votes in the Senate.
Every move toward a centrist Republican risks losing a conservative, while concessions to the right could turn moderates away from the bill.
Three more Republicans — Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ohio), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (W.Va.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act before slow mail turns into no mail Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Seven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill MORE (Kan.) — said they opposed the current bill after the decision to delay it.
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWelcome to ground zero of climate chaos A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate Bipartisan blip: Infrastructure deal is last of its kind without systemic change MORE (Maine), another GOP no vote, said she wasn’t sure the measure could be changed to win her over.
She said she has “so many fundamental problems with the bill that have been confirmed by the [Congressional Budget Office] report that it’s difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill.”
Multiple senators and aides said leadership wasn’t really negotiating with them this week. They said they hoped the extra time would leave room for compromise.
“I think most people are acceptant that this is a very difficult, complicated undertaking, and willing to, you know, allow time particularly for some of our colleagues who feel they need more time,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Manchin-McConnell meet amid new voting rights push Republican leaders misjudged Jan. 6 committee MORE (S.D.), the chamber’s No. 3 Republican.
Trump has been pushing for a win on healthcare but sounded a conciliatory note at the opening of the White House meeting.
“I think the Senate bill is going to be great,” he said. “This will be great if we get it done, and if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like and that’s OK and I understand that very well.”
After the meeting, Thune said his impression was that Trump “really wants us to get a deal.”
“I think he’s just very open to us finding — to take care of the people who are concerned about the changes to Medicaid and how we might be able to soften those, and then the conservatives that are interested in market reforms,” Thune said.
Portman, Capito and Collins are worried about the legislation’s cuts to Medicaid and how it might affect the opioid epidemic. Many people with opioid addiction now get healthcare through Medicaid.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Monday struck a blow against the Senate bill’s chances when it found that 22 million more people would be without insurance by 2026 under the Senate bill when compared to current law.
Capito and Portman had proposed a $45 billion fund for the opioid crisis to be spent over a decade. But the money included in the healthcare bill fell far short of this: just $2 billion for fiscal 2018.
And even if McConnell bolstered the fund, that probably wouldn’t be enough to secure Capito’s support, she indicated.
“More opioid funding would be very good and very beneficial, but the core for me is the Medicaid provision,” Capito said.
She added: “If you can’t access the treatment, it’s not going to do you any good.”
Yet moves to win over those senators could cause other opponents of the bill to dig in. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment Masks and vaccines: What price freedom? MORE (R-Ky.) has complained that the bill would result in new entitlements, while Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant More than 10,000 migrants await processing under bridge in Texas Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State MORE (Texas), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough MORE (Utah) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDomestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary MORE (Wis.) say it would not do enough to lower premiums, among other complaints.
The CBO found it would raise premiums for the next two years before they would fall in 2020.
Lee went so far as to call for a “rewrite” of the bill.
“We can rewrite our bill to bring down the price working families pay for health insurance — while still protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions,” he said in a statement.
But those conservative demands could alienate other Republicans, particularly a call to allow states to opt out of ObamaCare’s protections against people with pre-existing conditions being charged more due to their illness.
Leaders say they will try to make changes to the bill before the end of the week, giving time for the CBO to conduct a new analysis. After the meeting at the White House, McConnell told reporters his chamber would not take up the bill until “a couple of weeks after this week.”
Many senators praised the extra time, after what some viewed as a rushed process.
“I’m just appreciative of the fact that we’re going to be given that time, and I’ll be given a chance, hopefully, to make the case to improve this bill better and really focus on the premiums,” said Johnson.