WASHINGTON: An angry President Donald Trump railed Tuesday against dissenters in his party who dashed his months-long effort to dismantle his predecessor’s landmark health care law, as moderates baulked at the latest Republican plan to scrap Obamacare.
With several efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now squashed, the Senate’s top Republican said he would forge ahead with what could be a last-gasp vote – on a new plan to kill off most of the 2010 reforms of Trump’s predecessor without a replacement at the ready.
Four Republicans had lined up against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s earlier health overhaul, flat-lining it in the chamber, where the party could afford only two defectors in order to get the measure passed.
McConnell announced a fresh effort aimed at repealing Obamacare now and crafting a replacement later. But that too ran into opposition from at least three Republicans who refused to support repealing the law without a suitable fix at the ready.
The Republican leader nonetheless prepared to force a vote to see where his members stood on the repeal-only measure.
“That’s a vote I think we’re very likely to have in the very near future,” McConnell told reporters.
No date was given, but number two Republican John Cornyn said he expected it this week.
The dramatic implosion effectively means that Trump, who marks his first half-year in office Thursday, has no major legislative victory in hand, squandering months of political capital.
Trump fired off a morning tweet storm complaining about how he was “let down” by Democrats “and a few Republicans” opposed to the repeal.
He had campaigned relentlessly on a pledge to abolish most of the ACA, proclaiming at an October campaign rally that it would be “so easy” to immediately repeal and replace the law.
But he has run into the uncompromising reality of American politics: even with a president’s party enjoying a majority in both chambers, crafting and passing landmark legislation can be perilous in the US Congress.
The White House insisted that success remained within reach, with deputy spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying “we are not done with the health care battle.”
But Trump said he was “disappointed,” and repeatedly offered that now it would be easier to just “let Obamacare fail.”
He also stressed he wanted nothing to do with the blame for the collapse.
“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,” he said.
“We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us” looking to work on a solution.
‘Time to start over’
McConnell’s new bid would repeal much of Obamacare outright, but with a two-year delay of implementation, in order to allow Congress time to craft a replacement.
A straight repeal bill passed Congress in 2015. That was during Obama’s presidency, and Republicans knew they would pay no political price for their votes, as Obama vetoed the measure.
It is no longer a dress rehearsal, and some Republicans are clearly concerned they would be on the hook for any ensuing disruption to the health care system.
Two years ago, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned that simply repealing Obamacare would essentially kick 18 million people off health care in the first year compared to current law, a figure that would balloon to 32 million by 2026.
That is far worse than the 22 million that the CBO forecast would lose coverage under the latest repeal-and-replace legislation.
With a number of Senate Republican moderates voicing concern about how the latest bill could adversely impact millions of people insured through Medicaid, the health coverage program for the poor and the disabled, McConnell’s bid floundered.
“I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito said in a statement.
Her state has significant numbers of residents on Medicaid.
Another Republican opposed to the new plan, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, acknowledged that McConnell had the nearly impossible task of corralling enough votes from his caucus’ rival conservative and moderate factions.
“The majority leader is trying to keep all the frogs in the wheelbarrow, and it’s a tough job,” Murkowski said.
While Democrats celebrated, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer extended an olive branch to his Republican rivals and encouraged them to work with Democrats to improve Obamacare.
“It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over” on health care, he said.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 11 governors urged the Senate to “immediately reject” the repeal-only effort and work with state executives on bettering the current system.
“The best next step is for both parties to come together and do what we can all agree on: fix our unstable insurance markets,” said the governors, including Ohio’s John Kasich – a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful – and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.