Politics

Senate Republicans Delay Vote on Health Care Bill

GOP leaders say more time needed to negotiate the proposal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., right, and Vice President Mike Pence are still looking for the GOP votes to advance their legislation to redo the U.S. health insurance system. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

By JOE WILLIAMS and NIELS LESNIEWSKI, Roll Call

The Senate will not vote this week on a Republican bill to overhaul the U.S. health insurance system despite continued pressure from conservative activists and the Trump administration to act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the announcement following the weekly GOP policy luncheon. 

“We will not be on the bill this week, but we’re still working towards getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “We’re continuing to talk about it.“ 

McConnell said he was still optimistic a measure could pass the chamber. Despite that confidence, the decision not to vote on the legislation before the upcoming Fourth of July recess raises doubts about whether Senate Republicans will be able to muster up the votes needed to fulfill their seven-year campaign promise. 

Republican senators are expected to huddle with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the health care effort, McConnell confirmed.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders the goal of the afternoon White House meeting with GOP senators is for the members to “talk through” their differences and “figure out how best to move the ball forward.”

That meeting comes after several of Trump’s senior aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Press Secretary Sean Spicer, were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby for passage. 

Prior to McConnell’s announcement, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander told reporters there is no path for voting on proceeding to the health bill until after the upcoming recess. The Tennessee Republican said a number of members of the conference expressed concerns about the pace under which leadership was advancing the legislation and that McConnell was wise to pull back.  

That echoes comments from other lawmakers. 

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said. “The hope is to at least have an agreement on what we could get enough votes on this week.”

The GOP’s proposal has been imperiled by criticism from both moderates and conservative members. Five senators so far have come out in opposition to an initial procedural motion to proceed to consideration of the bill.   

“Tweaking isn’t going to work. From my perspective there would have to be a major overhaul of the bill,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins said. “Tinkering around the edges is not going to be sufficient to win my support.”

Collins said she was meeting with senators concerned about the Medicaid provisions, as part of a group led by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“I haven’t been meeting with the conservative senators who oppose the bill for entirely different reasons,” she said.

Collins expressed serious doubts any broad proposal could win the support of herself and more conservative Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

“I never underestimate the creativity of Mitch McConnell, but I can’t see it,” Collins said. “Maybe we do portions of the bill. Maybe we do a bill to stabilize the markets. That might be a narrow bill that would get bipartisan support.”

Despite the refusal by Republican leadership to put a timeline on the effort to overhaul the U.S. health care system, McConnell was eager to advance legislation this week. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, one of his top lieutenants, has said action before the upcoming August recess is a practical deadline.  

“We need a little more time to work on it to get it done,” the Texas Republican told reporters on Tuesday. “This is an effort to give us a little more time to complete our conversations with those who are still open to supporting the bill but who are not yet there.“ 

One major issue impeding work on the legislation are concerns from centrist Republicans about the proposed rollback of the health law’s Medicaid expansion. Those disagreements remain unresolved amidst the vote delay. 

“More opioid funding would be very good and very beneficial, but the [problem] for me is the Medicaid provisions,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said after the GOP lunch. 

Lawmakers who have called for a delay in consideration of the legislation welcomed McConnell’s move to push the vote until after the upcoming recess. 

“I’m just grateful the leadership decided let’s take our time, give this more thought, and try and get this right,” Sen. Ron Johnson said. 

The Wisconsin Republican was one of the five members who threatened to vote against a motion to proceed to the bill. 

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would result in 22 million people losing coverage over a decade, including 15 million individuals on Medicaid and 7 million who obtain their insurance through the individual marketplace. 

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