Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran said Monday night they will join two other senators to oppose the Obamacare repeal bill, dooming the GOP initiative in the Senate.
Republican leaders could only afford to lose two senators on the procedural motion to start debate on the bill. Lee and Moran would join Sens. Susan Collins and Rand Paul in opposition to the version of the bill currently before the Senate.
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But with four senators declared "no" votes – and several more undecided – Senate Republicans wouldn’t have enough votes to even start debate on repealing Obamacare, the campaign promise they have made to voters for seven years.
“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," Lee said of the Senate legislation.
Moran criticized the closed-door process for developing the bill and criticized the legislation for not repealing the entire 2010 health law.
“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said in a statement. “We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will now have to decide whether he can pull the Obamacare repeal bill back from the dead or give up on the effort.
It's the latest in a long series of obstacles for the Obamacare repeal effort.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), another Obamacare repeal skeptic, on Monday accused McConnell had committed a “breach of trust.”
The Wisconsin Republican was stunned to read in The Washington Post that McConnell was privately arguing that major reforms to Medicaid were so far in the distance that they would never take effect. Johnson said Monday that he’d confirmed through conversations with other senators that McConnell had made the remarks, which he said now puts a procedural vote on the bill in “jeopardy.”
“The reported comments from Leader McConnell before last Thursday about ‘don’t worry about these Medicaid changes, they won’t take effect,’ that’s troubling to me. I have talked to senators that basically confirmed that. I’ll see what Leader McConnell says tomorrow,” Johnson said on Monday evening. “From my standpoint, it’s a pretty serious breach of trust, those comments. I’m just troubled by those comments.”
In response to Johnson's complaints, McConnell said, “I prefer to speak for myself, and my view is that the Medicaid per capita cap with a responsible growth rate that is sustainable for taxpayers is the most important long-term reform in the bill. That is why it has been in each draft we have released.”
Johnson rebelled against McConnell’s plans to hold a June vote alongside three other conservatives, then began urging his colleagues to support opening debate on the bill last week after an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was added to allow people to buy cheaper insurance plans that are not covered by Obamacare’s regulations.
Before Lee and Moran announced their opposition, more than a half-dozen key senators were undecided, many wavering over those cuts to Medicaid spending.
“I’m reserving judgment. I want a CBO score, analysis and we’re still doing more work on it,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “They need more time … we’re still working on it.”
“Still talking, so that’s a good thing,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who expressed concern about how rolling back the Medicaid expansion would affect her state.
Sen. John McCain’ is out after surgery, and Senate leaders had hoped he would come back by next week for the procedural vote.
“We’re not going to come up short,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). had said earlier in the day. When McCain returns “will be very influential. We need a full contingent of the Republican senators. We don’t have any to spare.”
President Donald Trump is also ramping up his outreach to the Hill — hosting a handful of GOP senators at the White House Monday night, including Cornyn, John Thune of South Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma, according to Republican aides. All are expected to vote for the bill.
Key swing-votes such as Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Capito, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Johnson were not attending.
Republicans don’t expect a firm picture of whether the bill can even make it to the Senate floor or when they can hold a vote until perhaps the end of the week, according to GOP aides. They were going to use this week to tweak the bill, particularly Cruz’s amendment, which some Republicans worry was rushed. A Congressional Budget Office analysis has also been delayed as the bill is rewritten.
Several senators have raised questions about the amendment, which would allow cheap plans to be sold alongside Obamacare-compliant plans that cover pre-existing conditions. Those plans’ premiums would have some subsidies, but senators are confused about whether that money would be drawn from a nearly $200 billion stabilization fund meant to woo moderates.
"The extra time gives us a chance to study the bill, to consider the Congressional Budget Office report and make any modifications that we need to make,” Alexander said.
But extra time cuts both ways. Though Republicans can make additional changes to the bill and try to whip up support, liberal activists also have more time to mobilize opposition. And a charm offensive from the Trump administration aimed at skeptical GOP governors seemed to have little impact over the weekend.
“Governors have a large say. The reason why we’re not at 50 right now is a lot of governors don’t like what we’re doing,” said Graham, who is pitching them on his own plan to block grant federal health care money to the states and keep all of Obamacare’s taxes.
That leaves the bill’s future almost totally uncertain with no scheduled vote, no CBO score and no firm whip count.
“The delay is what we have,” Alexander said. “So I don’t think we’ll know until we vote whether it’s been good or bad.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.