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 MeadowsTestimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense Obama: Cummings showed us 'the importance of checks and balances' The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House 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 ThuneTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate War of words at the White House 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 TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE, who has talked of trying again on repeal, or for Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyUN Security Council to meet after Turkey launches Syria offensive Trump faces growing GOP revolt on Syria To win the federal paid family leave debate, allow states to lead the way 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 JohnsonAmbassador Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill for testimony in impeachment inquiry GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy 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 HoevenBottom Line Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal 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 MurkowskiMulvaney defends decision to host G-7 at Doral: Trump 'considers himself to be in the hospitality business' Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe 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 CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes 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 RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate 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.