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 McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire 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 TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job 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“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means ObamaCare is being repealed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “We have essentially repealed ObamaCare, and we will come up with something much better.”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 CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration 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 GrahamPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech The Memo: Trump and McCabe go to war Graham seeks new Rosenstein testimony after explosive McCabe interview 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 RyanUnscripted Trump keeps audience guessing in Rose Garden Coulter defends Paul Ryan: This is 100 percent Trump's fault The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration 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 Nelson2020 party politics in Puerto Rico There is no winning without Latinos as part of your coalition Dem 2020 candidates court Puerto Rico as long nomination contest looms MORE (D-Fla.), for example, would provide funding aimed at bringing down premiums known as reinsurance. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Congress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees 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 MurrayOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — Dems blast rulemaking on family planning program | Facebook may remove anti-vaccine content | Medicare proposes coverage for new cancer treatment Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators seek answers on surprise medical bills | Red states move to limit Medicaid expansion | Two drug companies agree to testify Senate Dems block Sasse measure meant to respond to Virginia bill 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.