- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sen. John McCain’s absence has left the Senate with no timetable for a vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, but some Republicans doubt the proposed health care bill has the votes to pass even with the upper chamber at full strength.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, indefinitely postponed a vote planned for this week to give Mr. McCain time to recover from a procedure to remove a blood clot above his eye.

“There are few people tougher than my friend John McCain, and I know he’ll be back with us soon,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement Saturday. “While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act.”

A pathology report to determine how long Mr. McCain’s recovery will take is expected in the coming days. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic said the senator’s surgery was successful and he is resting comfortably at his home in Arizona.

Two Republicans, conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and centrist Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, have come out publicly against the health care bill. With a 52-seat majority and Democrats unanimously lined up against the legislation, Republicans cannot afford another defection.

Mr. Paul said the delay could blunt any momentum Republicans have built up and give undecided senators a chance to examine the bill’s shortcomings.

“I think the longer the bill’s out there, the more conservative Republicans are going to discover that it’s not repeal,” Mr. Paul said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether Mr. McConnell has the votes right now, Mr. Paul said, “I don’t think he does.”

Ms. Collins said the vote would be “extremely close” even with Mr. McCain present.

“On the Senate side, I would estimate that there about eight to 10 Republican senators who have deep concerns,” Ms. Collins said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But how this would all translate out, I’m not certain. And I never underestimate Leader McConnell’s skills.”

Mr. McCain’s health may not be the only issue holding up the bill. Republican aides suggested on Sunday that the Congressional Budget Office will not release its evaluation of Mr. McConnell’s revised bill on Monday, as initially expected.

The Senate Budget Committee did not offer an explanation for the delay but said it would provide more information and updates as appropriate.

Before the vote was delayed, President Trump used his weekly address on Saturday to encourage the Senate to pass the health care bill.

“The Senate health care bill stops the Obamacare disaster, expands choice and drives down costs — and I want to tell you the Republican senators are working very hard to get something that’s going to be really, really good — the opposite of the big lie which was Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said in the address.

Mr. Paul and Ms. Collins said they have been in talks with the White House about the health care bill.

Mr. Paul cautioned the president against overselling the legislation.

“I’ve been involved with health care for 20 years as a physician,” he said “It was in terrible shape before Obamacare, got worse under Obamacare, and I predict that the fundamental flaw of Obamacare will remain with the Republican plan, and this is a big reason why I can’t support it.”

White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre declined to say whether the president made calls to senators over the weekend on the health care bill.

“The president has been monitoring what’s going on with health care, and he and his staff have been involved with what’s going on in the Senate,” she said.

Asked for a reaction to Mr. McConnell’s decision to defer a vote on the bill, she said, “We wish Sen. McCain a speedy recovery.”

A number of moderates, including Ms. Collins, have expressed concerns over the bill’s cuts to the growth of Medicaid.

“This bill would make sweeping and deep cuts to the Medicaid program, which has been a safety net program on the books for more than 50 years, ensuring that some of our most vulnerable citizens, our disabled children, our low-income seniors receive the health care that they need,” Ms. Collins said on ABC’s “This Week.”

America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s top lobbying group, also took issue with an amendment championed by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, that would allow customers to opt for plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

In a statement Friday, AHIP called the proposal “simply unworkable in any form.”

“As healthy people move to the less-regulated plans, those with significant medical needs will have no choice but to stay in the comprehensive plans,” the group said in a letter to Senate leaders, “and premiums will skyrocket for people with pre-existing conditions.”

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