Senate Republican leaders continued to push their strategy to repeal the 2010 health care law, leaning on support from the White House even as their rank and file continued to express doubts about such an approach.
“I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in his opening remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. The Kentucky Republican wants his colleagues to vote soon on a procedural motion to get to the House-passed health care legislation so he can offer an amendment modeled on legislation Congress passed in 2015 to repeal the 2010 law.
That measure, like the current procedure McConnell wants to use to alter the U.S. health insurance system, was passed via the fast-track budget reconciliation process, which avoids a filibuster and allows for a simple majority vote.
“A majority of the Senate voted to pass the same repeal legislation back in 2015. President Obama vetoed it then. President Trump will sign it now,” McConnell said.
One of the Republicans who said he would vote “no” on proceeding to McConnell’s previous iteration, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, said he would support McConnell’s plan to go ahead with a vote to get a repeal.
“I support the president’s efforts to repeal Obamacare, and I will vote in favor of the motion to proceed. This should be followed by an open legislative process to craft health care policy that will provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans,” Moran said.
Other conservatives may also change course, but more centrist Republicans might be prompted to voice their opposition now, creating one-for-one “aye” for “nay” votes and landing McConnell still short of the 50 votes needed to proceed.
“I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said in a statement. She had previously expressed concerns about cuts to the Medicaid program. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is likely to still oppose proceeding to the measure.
Collins told reporters that Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee should begin to hold hearings to look at “what we can do to fix the many egregious flaws” in the health care law.
President Donald Trump meanwhile, pressured McConnell to do away with the legislative filibuster altogether, the so-called nuclear option, to pass a full repeal with only GOP votes.
“The Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes. Even parts of full Repeal need 60. 8 Dems control Senate. Crazy!” the president tweeted Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday expressed support for McConnell’s new game plan.
“Last night, we learned that the Senate still doesn’t have consensus on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare at the same time. President Trump and I fully support the majority leader’s decision to move forward with a bill that just repeals Obamacare, and gives Congress time, as the president said, to work on a new health care plan that will start with a clean slate,” Pence said.
But, speaking to the National Retail Federation, Pence did not rule out a return to the repeal-and-replace combination legislation.
“To be clear, the Senate should vote to repeal now and replace later, or return to the legislation carefully crafted in the House and the Senate,” Pence said. “Either way, inaction is not an option. Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now.”
If Republican leaders lack the votes, though, they might feel more pressure to work with Democrats on legislation to stabilize the insurance markets.
“We still have the same problems that we were trying to solve, so now this means that I suspect there will be discussions on a bipartisan bill,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters Tuesday. “To me that’s unfortunate, in a sense, because I think the Democrats are strongly committed to Obamacare and are unwilling to admit the structural problems which create the problems we are having in the individual market today.”
Democrats took issue with such characterizations.
“The door to bipartisanship is open right now. Republicans only need to walk through it,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said on the floor Tuesday.
Niels Lesniewski, Joe Williams, Ed Pesce and Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.