Refusing to take a loss, the president returns to his previous position of repealing and replacing Obamacare at the same time.
It’s “Groundhog Day” in Washington – except few people are laughing.
Facing the prospect of an embarrassing legislative defeat at the six-month marker of his presidency, Donald Trump on Wednesday called on GOP senators at the White House to revive their original plan to replace Obamacare simultaneously with their attempt to repeal it.
“We can repeal it. But the best is repeal and replace,” Trump told a midday gathering of the Republican Senate caucus. “I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care.”
It’s the latest bait-and-switch by a president who has meandered between advocating for a straight repeal vote, allowing Obamacare to fail in the marketplace until Democrats come to the negotiating table, and returning to the original comprehensive strategy that has yet to muster the necessary votes for passage in the upper chamber.
With no clear path to victory in sight, the president chose to revert back to square one.
At the same time, Senate Republican leadership seemed largely indifferent to the president’s latest shift. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged Wednesday “it’s better” to jointly repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but insisted he would hold a vote next week on a motion to allow debate on a bill that could end up only doing the former, albeit with a two-year delay.
“No harm done is done by getting on the bill,” he said, stressing that the process would allow for amendments from leery members. “What I want to disabuse any of you of is the notion that we will not have that vote next week. We’re going to vote on the motion to proceed to the bill next week.”
But even that move looks in danger, given that at least four Republican senators are against a repeal-only effort.
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all have balked at abandoning Obamacare without an alternative. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said a bill that simply repealed the existing health care law would “add to more uncertainty” for his constituents.
With only 52 senators in his caucus, McConnell can afford to lose only two on the vote.
Likely to further hamper the effort is a new Congressional Budget Office assessment, which showed Wednesday that compared with current law, repealing Obamacare without a concurrent replacement would lead to 32 million more people lacking insurance by 2026. Federal deficits would be reduced by $473 billion over the same time, the analysis said.
The legislative stalemate is triggering a predictable round of finger-pointing among lawmakers, the conservative commentariat and right-wing interest groups.
A website set up by the Tea Party Patriots and The Club for Growth dubs Capito, Murkowski and Portman “Traitorous Republicans” and showcases statements from the three signaling their willingness to repeal Obamacare. Collins is the sole sitting Republican senator to have voted “no” on 2015 repeal legislation.
At the same time, conservative radio talk show and MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt identified Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas as those to blame for opposing the Senate GOP’s health care replacement.
“I hope @RepGallagher keeps pounding away at truth that @SenMikeLee @JerryMoran @RandPaul have saved Obamacare despite whining from staff,” Hewitt tweeted as part of a series of critiques.
One Utah-based GOP consultant involved in Senate races complains Lee, his home-state senator, has helped put the GOP in danger of “massive losses in 2018.”
“If those in Congress think health care is tough, wait until they get to tax reform. Once again the House will pass something and it will be bottled up in the Senate,” the consultant says. “At the end of the year we will have done nothing on the big issues we promised action on.”
Fox News host Eric Bolling rushed to the Republican senators’ defense, tweaking Hewitt as a “squish … for going after those who want to pass a clean repeal of Obamacare.”
It was left to normally conflict-oriented Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to assure reporters on Capitol Hill that there is “a lot of common ground” among Senate Republicans.