The Capitol had the feeling of a funeral service Tuesday as deflated Republican senators left their closed-door meeting where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his party’s latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would not get a vote.
“We don’t have the votes,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of the lead authors of the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, told reporters after the meeting. The legislation would have turned much of Obamacare into block grants administered by the states and would have gutted many of the mandates and subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.
The proposal was doomed after Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine came out opposed to it for reasons varying from the secretive process used to craft the partisan bill to it maintaining too much of Obamacare’s structure. All those competing demands and complaints proved a gulf too wide for party leaders to bridge.
“It is frustrating that we haven’t gotten there yet. I’m frustrated; everybody else is frustrated,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters at the Capitol before vowing to continue negotiations after his party tries to tackle tax reform. “But we are making progress. We are closer than many outside observers believe.”
The failure of the party to deliver on its signature campaign promise seven years and running is causing finger-pointing, starting with a disgruntled President Trump.
“At some point, there will be a repeal and replace, but we’ll see whether or not that point is now or whether it will be shortly thereafter,” Trump told reporters at the White House Tuesday just before the bill was pulled. “But we are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans.”
One of those “so-called Republicans” says it’s time her colleagues reach across the aisle and find a bipartisan compromise, especially because insurance companies are facing a looming deadline this week to finalize their contracts with the federal government over what plans they’ll offer next year. A bipartisan group had been working on a plan to stabilize the insurance marketplace, but the talks fell apart last week. Now others are hoping the failure of Obamacare repeal will revive those talks and possibly bring about a longer-term stabilization package.
“I think we also ought to focus on the underlying problem of escalating health care costs, which has received very little attention and debate back when the Affordable Care Act was first passed and today,” Sen. Collins tells Rolling Stone.
Other Republicans are skeptical Democrats want to negotiate in good faith, though they say they’re willing to test the waters.
“It’s always time to sit down, but here’s the goal: I’m not going to take more money and give it to insurance companies,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tells Rolling Stone. “We’ll see what bipartisanship means. If it’s just around the edges – if you don’t fundamentally change Obamacare, how can you get a fundamentally different result? But you never know until you sit down and talk. And it gives us time to do that.”