As of Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was still vowing to move ahead with Plan C: an outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with no replacement plan yet in place. (Such a bill was passed by Congress in 2015 and subsequently vetoed by President Obama.) McConnell is plowing ahead despite a number of Senate Republicans voicing skepticism about the repeal-only proposal, and three coming out opposed to it, making it dead on arrival in the upper chamber.
“Sometime in the near future we will have a vote on repealing Obamacare, and it is potentially the same vote that we had in 2015,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon. “I would remind everyone that in that proposal, there’s a two-year delay … which would give us the opportunity to work out a complete replacement on a bipartisan basis, with our Democratic friends. That’s the vote I think we’re very likely to have, in the very near future.”
Other Republicans were blunter than their leader in voicing frustration with their colleagues who previously campaigned on fully repealing the ACA but who are now opposing a bill that would fulfill that pledge.
“Most of those people in our caucus – just about everybody – either voted to repeal or promised to do it. They ought keep their word,” Sen. Richard Shelby told reporters, before urging McConnell to bring the bill up to test his fellow Republicans. “I would urge him to go ahead and vote, and see where people really are.”
Republicans hashed out potential ways to move forward at their weekly closed-door policy lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, but the discussion seems only to have pushed members further into opposing corners.
“I think at lunch we had a healthy discussion. That discussion was whether to move forward on repealing Obamacare. All of us promised that we would repeal Obamacare, and the discussion was whether or not to move forward to a vote on that,” Sen. Rand Paul told reporters.
When asked if he supports moving ahead even if the bill lacks the votes to pass, Paul put pressure on wavering members of his party. “No, I’m for a vote that succeeds. And I think those Republicans who promised to repeal Obamacare ought to vote the same way they did in 2015. If you’re not willing to vote the same way you did in 2015, then you need to go back home and explain to Republicans why you’re no longer for repealing Obamacare.”
President Trump and other White House officials are laying blame for the policy failure at the feet of Democrats, whom McConnell locked out of the process from day one. But Republican senators who oppose the three plans their leader has put forward aren’t buying it, noting that the bills have all had serious flaws and that outright repeal would be too harmful to the public.
“I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said of the repeal-only effort in a statement undercutting her fellow Republicans. “I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.”
Among the more moderate wing of the GOP, the promise of having two years to pass a replacement isn’t flying – especially given that Congress is mired by gridlock and there’s little trust between the two parties in Washington, especially on health care reform.
“If we’re going to do repeal, we have to address the issues that we face with health care in this country. Having a replacement for a repair or a reform has to go hand-in-glove with an effort to repeal it,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski told reporters. “A proposal that just allows for a repeal with no replacement I think just causes greater uncertainty, greater chaos. And the families that I’m talking to back home in Alaska don’t need any more of that.”
Murkowski joins a growing number of senators from both parties calling to reset the reform effort – only this time with Democrats, hospitals, insurers and the public invited to be a part of the debate.
“I think what we’ve got to do is go back to the committee room – it’s where we should have started – [and] work on a bipartisan basis,” Murkowski said. “Yes, this is hard. Let’s just all acknowledge that. But I think what has to happen is Republicans have to admit: some of the things in the ACA, we actually liked. And the Democrats have to admit that some of the things that they voted for in the ACA are broken and need to be fixed. And we need to come together in an open committee, hash it through, take up amendments – try to build a consensus product, but do it in a way that the public feels that we are really working towards their best interests.”
While White House officials have signaled a willingness to work with Democrats, Trump doesn’t seem to be on the same page with his staff.
“Let Obamacare fail and it will be a lot easier. And I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let Obamacare fail,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say, ‘How do we fix it, how do we fix it?’ or, ‘How do we come up with a new plan?'”
Such statements from the party’s standard-bearer only sow more distrust between congressional Democrats and an administration that’s learning on the job and doesn’t seem to fully understand how the legislative process works.
“He is actively, actively trying to undermine the health care system in this country, using millions of Americans as political pawns in a cynical game. By continuing to deny the insurance markets their certainty that they need to function, the president is playing a dangerous game with the health care of this country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “Our colleagues in the Republican Senate have a choice to make. They can follow the president down a path that would lead to higher premiums, less care and millions of Americans losing coverage. They can join President Trump in trying to sabotage the system and hurt millions of innocent Americans to try to make a political point that has failed already. Or they can start today working with Democrats.”