- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2017

Two Senate Republicans late Monday said they oppose the Republican health care bill, effectively stopping in its tracks the push to replace Obamacare and pushing GOP strategy toward an outright repeal without a replacement.

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas simultaneously announced their opposition, meaning four Republicans have declared that they will vote against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill, forcing both President Trump and Mr. McConnell toward “Plan B.”

The McConnell bill could afford only two Republican defections in the 52-48 chamber in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition to repealing Obamacare.

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan M. Collins of Maine earlier opposed the plan, which Mr. McConnell largely wrote behind closed doors and hoped to bring to the floor this week, before Sen. John McCain’s sudden need for surgery to remove a blood clot put that plan on hold.

As a leading conservative, Mr. Lee was always skeptical that the bill didn’t go far enough in repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, though Mr. Moran emerged as a surprising opponent.

The Kansan said he still wants to scrap Obamacare but that he couldn’t support the bill because it neither repeals the 2010 law nor addresses health care’s rising costs.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump: ‘Let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan’

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said. “Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday health care decisions, it is more likely that our health care system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase. 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.”

Mr. Lee said the plan didn’t repeal all of Obamacare’s taxes and wouldn’t kill enough of its regulations to drive down premiums.

Neither senator planned to support the motion to proceed onto the bill, a major blow for Senate Republican leaders and Mr. Trump, who said he would be “very angry” if Republicans couldn’t dispatch a bill to his desk.

More broadly, Republicans’ seven-year pledge to repeal Obamacare will be dead in the water unless leaders find a way to revive the effort through changes that can gather requisite support from their own troops.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump instead revived talks of scrapping Obamacare now and figuring out the rest later — a strategy that’s popular among conservatives but won’t gather much support from moderates or party leadership.

“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” he said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said it is time to pass the type of repeal bill that made it through Congress last year but ran into President Obama’s veto pen.

After a messy debate, the House passed its own plan to replace Obamacare in May.

“Time for full repeal of #Obamacare — let’s put the same thing on President Trump’s desk that we put on President Obama’s desk,” he said on Twitter.

And Mr. McConnell seemingly agreed, saying in a statement late Monday night that his chamber will “take up the House bill with the first amendment in order being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 … a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period.”

However, Senate Democrats already had declared victory and said Republicans should come to the negotiating table to work to “fix” Obamacare rather than repeal it.

“Rather than repeating the same failed partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Monday’s body blow from the Lee-Moran duo capped growing discontent about the revised plan that leaders unveiled late last week.

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin accused Mr. McConnell of a “breach of trust” for reportedly telling skittish moderates that a stringent caps on the Medicaid program for the poor would never take effect.

“Last week, I was strongly urging colleagues to vote for the motion to proceed. I’m not doing that now,” Mr. Johnson told reporters.

In a statement, Mr. McConnell didn’t address the accusation directly but said he stood by the policy change.

“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,” the leader said. “That is why it has been in each draft we have released.”

Earlier Monday, progressive groups opposed to the Republican health care plan kicked their protests into “hyperdrive,” saying the decision to delay votes until Mr. McCain recovers from surgery offered them a golden opportunity to kill the bill.

Loud chants bounced off the hard walls of the Hart Senate Office Building’s atrium a few hours before the Senate gaveled in, drawing staff members from their offices and camera phones out of onlookers’ pockets as several protesters were arrested.

“Kill the Bill! Don’t kill us!” activists who oppose the plan to repeal Obamacare chanted.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, dared Republican leaders to use the McCain delay to hold public hearings on their bill, which would replace the Affordable Care Act’s generous subsidies with more limited tax credits and rein in President Obama’s vast expansion of Medicaid, while capping federal funding for the program overall.

Before Mr. Lee and Mr. Moran defected, Mr. Trump had been planning to take a hands-on role in locking down support for the plan. He hosted a group of senators at the White House on Monday night to discuss the effort, and press secretary Sean Spicer said he was “very active” on the phone with senators this weekend.

“The president’s going to be engaged,” Mr. Spicer said. “We have every confidence in the majority leader’s ability to get this done. The president will do whatever he has to.”

Mr. Trump also noted the absence of Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, whose injury will keep him home for at least a week.

“We hope John McCain gets better very soon. We miss him. He’s a crusty voice in Washington — plus we need his vote,” the president said.

On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders had been focused on getting moderates into the “yes” column. A revised version of the plan provides additional “stabilization” funds to Alaska — one of its senators, Lisa Murkowkski, was considered a key Republican holdout because the premiums exceeded a specific threshold.

It also provides $45 billion over 10 years for opioids treatment, a priority for Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, though both senators are still concerned about deep cuts to Medicaid.

“We’re still talking, so that’s a good thing,” Ms. Capito said on the way to a Monday vote.

But now the health care debate is stuck in neutral, and Republicans — who control both chambers of Congress — will be itching to turn to other matters, including a push to revamp the tax code, resolving thorny debates over raising the federal debt limit and funding the government in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Conservatives such as Mr. Paul say the best way to move on is to repeal Obamacare now and sort out the replacement later.

Meanwhile, Ms. Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy, Louisiana Republican, have offered an alternative that would let states decide whether to keep Obamacare or revert to a more conservative model that auto-enrolls people into coverage.

Mr. Cassidy also worked on a plan with Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, that would let states take the money they would receive under the 2010 law and decide what to do with it.

Mr. McCain, recovering in Arizona, urged his colleagues to let Democrats have a seat at the table, so the GOP can avoid repeating the one-party process that led to Obamacare.

“As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure,” he said. “The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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