‘Let Obamacare fail,’ Trump says after GOP plan collapses

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared Tuesday it’s time to “let Obamacare fail” after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of “Obamacare.” This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell’s initial all-male working group on health care.

McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote could come as soon as Wednesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame.

“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” the president said. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you that 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’re going to say, ‘How do we fix it?’”

Despite the current law’s problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured.

Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

“They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Asked how he would justify the GOP’s failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice” — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama’s desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they question how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now.

“Were going to find out if there’s hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I’m afraid,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

“To just say repeal and ‘Trust us, we’re going to fix it in a couple of years,’ that’s not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now,” she said.

Said Capito: “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

What’s next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis “in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests, Murkowski said. “It’s where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard.”

Alaska has extremely high medical costs because many residents live in remote areas, and it also benefits from Obama’s expansion of Medicaid coverage. Murkowski has been wary of anything that would jeopardize federal funds for her state.

Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s repeal-and-replace bill would have canceled Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It would have rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminate many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.

More than 20 million people would have lost insurance coverage under the McConnell plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office — compared to more than 30 million under the repeal-only version rejected Tuesday.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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President Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and “a few Republicans” Tuesday over the failure of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law, and warned, “we will return.”

Trump’s early morning tweet unleashed a barrage of criticism at Congress over the collapse of the GOP’s flagship legislative priority. For seven years, the party has pledged to repeal President Barack Obama’s law.

“Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, but said, “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.”

He added, “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Two GOP senators — Utah’s Mike Lee and Jerry Moran of Kansas — sealed the measure’s doom late Monday when they announced they would vote “no” in an initial, critical vote that had been expected as soon as next week. That meant that at least four of the 52 GOP senators were ready to block the measure — two more than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to spare in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a late evening statement that essentially waved a white flag.

It was the second stinging setback on the issue in three weeks for McConnell, whose reputation as a legislative mastermind has been marred as he’s failed to unite his chamber’s Republicans behind a health overhaul package that highlighted jagged divides between conservatives and moderates. In late June, he abandoned an initial package after he lacked enough GOP support to pass.

The episode has also been jarring for Trump, whose intermittent lobbying and nebulous, often contradictory descriptions of what he’s wanted have shown he has limited clout with senators. That despite a determination by Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to demonstrate that a GOP running the White House and Congress can govern effectively.

Now, McConnell said, the Senate would vote on a measure the GOP-run Congress approved in 2015, only to be vetoed by Obama — a bill repealing much of Obama’s statute, with a two-year delay designed to give lawmakers time to enact a replacement. Trump embraced that idea last month after an initial version of McConnell’s bill collapsed due under Republican divisions, and did so again late Monday.

“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Trump tweeted.

But the prospects for approving a clean repeal bill followed by work on replacement legislation, even with Trump ready to sign it, seemed shaky. Trump and party leaders had started this year embracing that strategy, only to abandon it when it seemed incapable of passing Congress, with many Republicans worried it would cause insurance market and political chaos because of uncertainty that they would approve substitute legislation.

McConnell’s failed bill would have left 22 million uninsured by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that many Republicans found unpalatable. But the vetoed 2015 measure would be even worse, the budget office said last January, producing 32 million additional uninsured people by 2026 — figures that seemed likely to drive a stake into that bill’s prospects for passing Congress.

That would seem to leave McConnell with an option he described last month — negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. That would likely be on a narrower package aimed more at keeping insurers in difficult marketplaces they’re either abandoning or imposing rapidly growing premiums.

“The core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said in a statement. He said Republicans “should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s bill would repeal Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminated many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.

Besides Lee and Moran, two other GOP senators had previously declared their opposition to McConnell’s bill: moderate Maine Sen. Susan Collins and conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky. And other moderates were wavering and could have been difficult for McConnell and Trump to win over because of the bill’s Medicaid cuts: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada, probably the most endangered Senate Republican in next year’s elections.

The range of objections lodged by the dissident senators underscored the warring viewpoints within his own party that McConnell had to try patching over. Lee complained that the GOP bill didn’t go far enough in rolling back Obama’s robust coverage requirements, while moderates like Collins berated its Medicaid cuts and the millions it would leave without insurance.

McConnell’s revised version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding tens of billions of dollars to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs. His efforts did not achieve the intended result.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.

The announcements from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation reeling. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he will retreat, and try to pass the more straightforward Obamacare repeal bill that Republicans approved while Obama was still in office and certain to veto it. That looks unlikely to succeed now that it could actually become law and unleash wide-ranging effects likely to frighten off senators.

“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” McConnell said in a statement that sounded like a death knell to the GOP’s promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better.

Trump, who had predicted success for McConnell’s repeal-and-replace legislation just hours earlier, urged over Twitter: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” But Republican leaders rejected that clean-repeal approach months ago because it could not pass Congress.

Lee and Moran both said they could not support McConnell’s legislation in the form unveiled last week. They joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill on Thursday.

McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs,” said Moran.

Lee said, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

That left McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with his bill. Instead he said he would try to open debate on a repeal-and-replace bill passed by the House, and the first allowed amendment would be on the legislation approved by Congress in 2015 repealing much of Obamacare, with a two-year delay for the repeal to take effect.

Obama was in the White House when that bill passed, and he vetoed it. Few Republicans reckoned then with the reality of sending the bill to a president of their party who might actually sign it and invite all the consequences, including casting tens of millions off the rolls of the insured and off of Medicaid. This year’s debate has already shown Republicans are highly wary of any such move, and a similar straightforward repeal was rejected early on.

Monday night’s retreat was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of his repeal-and-replace bill last month when defeat became inevitable.

Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night’s development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been the GOP’s trademark issue for seven years, ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans won the White House and full control of Congress in large part on the basis of their promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but have struggled to overcome their deep internal divisions and deliver on those promises.

The Senate bill, like an earlier version that barely passed the House, eliminated mandates and taxes under Obamacare, and unraveled an expansion of the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled. For conservatives like Lee and Paul, it didn’t go far enough in delivering on Republican Party promises to undo Obama’s law. But moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.

McConnell’s latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs. His efforts did not achieve the intended result.

“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also called for a new bipartisan approach, but McConnell opted to go in the other direction. One outcome could be to prove to conservatives agitating for a repeal-only vote that such repeal-only legislation cannot pass the Senate.

Prior to the stunning announcements from Lee and Moran, the GOP bill stood on the knife’s edge, with zero votes to spare but not dead yet. It was apparent that no GOP senator wanted to be the third to announce opposition and become responsible for killing the bill, so the news from Lee and Moran came simultaneously.

It arrived as about a half-dozen senators were at the White House meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the next steps in the GOP effort to ensure passage of the bill.