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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 McConnellGOP braces for wild week with momentous vote GOP divided over expected Cheney ouster Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' 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. 

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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 TrumpSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors 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“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means ObamaCare is being repealed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “We have essentially repealed ObamaCare, and we will come up with something much better.”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 CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' 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.

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

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell safe in power, despite Trump's wrath Lindsey Graham: GOP can't 'move forward without President Trump' House to advance appropriations bills in June, July 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 RyanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only Cheney at donor retreat says Trump's actions 'a line that cannot be crossed': report 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.

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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 NelsonNASA criticizes China after rocket debris lands in Indian Ocean Democrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Crist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job MORE (D-Fla.), for example, would provide funding aimed at bringing down premiums known as reinsurance. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality 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 MurrayBiden's pre-K plan is a bipartisan opportunity to serve the nation's children Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap 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.