- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shelved plans for the Senate to vote this week on the Republicans’ proposed Obamacare repeal, suffering an embarrassing setback Tuesday as he acknowledged the bill he wrote failed to win over enough troops in his own party.

Republican leaders insisted they will try again in July, but they struggled to explain how they might bridge the gap within their party, where conservatives want the bill to further dismantle Obamacare while moderates say it already goes too far.

As many as a dozen Republicans signaled reluctance to back the proposal, leaving Mr. McConnell well shy of the 50 senators he would need to clear the bill this week.

“It’s a complicated subject,” Mr. McConnell told reporters after a lunch meeting between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence.

Hours later, President Trump invited all Senate Republicans to a White House meeting and urged them to try to find a compromise that would work.

Mr. Trump said Obamacare is “melting down” so they have no choice but to pursue a better plan, though he seemed to suggest that hitting a wall would be acceptable.

“It will be great when we get it done,” Mr. Trump told the senators. “If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something we’re not going to like. And that’s OK. And I understand that very well. But I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public, very, very important for the people of our country.”

Heading into Tuesday, Republican leaders had said they were on track for a vote by the end of this week, even as they struggled with the vote count.

But as they huddled for their weekly lunch, it became clear that the bill Mr. McConnell released last week after a month of negotiations and secret drafting sessions wasn’t going to pass.

The bill suffered a fatal blow Monday when the Congressional Budget Office projected that 22 million fewer people would have health insurance as a result of the Senate bill.

Though the bill would save $321 billion — roughly $200 billion more than a House bill that passed in May — the eye-popping coverage numbers and changes to Medicaid detailed in the CBO report spooked centrists such as Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, who said rural hospitals would be hit hard.

She was among five Republican senators who said they would join Democrats in voting to prevent the bill from even reaching the floor. Others said they were prepared to vote against the bill on final passage unless it had been improved.

Senate Republicans can suffer only two defections from their 52-seat majority to pass the bill under fast-track budget rules they are using to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, said the bill “missed the mark” for his state.

“I am pleased with the decision to delay the vote. Now is the time to take a step back and put the full legislative process to work,” Mr. Moran said.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also announced their opposition, citing potential cuts to drug abuse treatment programs.

“The Senate draft before us includes some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic,” Mr. Portman said.

Republican leaders said Obamacare is failing and they will continue to reach for a solution this summer.

Counties in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri — 49 in all — are projected to have no insurers offering plans on their Obamacare exchanges next year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as insurers contend with a costly customer base and Mr. Trump’s wavering commitment to propping up the law.

“We’re going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable,” Mr. McConnell said.

His U-turn was a clear setback for someone known as a masterful legislator and tactician.

But he got a vote of confidence from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who said he expects Mr. McConnell to eventually deliver.

“I would not bet against Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Ryan told reporters.

The speaker had to shelve a vote in the House earlier this year but returned weeks later with a revised version that passed on a 217-213 vote. That experience could give hope to Mr. McConnell, who must now look for changes that can win over reluctant senators.

Democrats, meanwhile, said the delay validated their resistance.

“Delaying the Trumpcare vote shows Republicans are feeling the heat from their constituents, and now we must continue to pour on the pressure,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Conservative groups, meanwhile, said the Republican bill didn’t go far enough in dismantling the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“Only in Washington does ‘repeal’ translate to ‘restore.’ Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP health care bill does: It restores Obamacare,” said David McIntosh, president of the free-market Club for Growth. “And while it’s hard to imagine, in some ways the Senate’s legislation would make our nation’s failing health care system worse.”

Moving the bill further to the right to meet conservatives’ objections could deter moderates, in a repeat of the Republican tug of war that dogged Mr. Ryan during the House debate.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, renewed his call for bipartisan negotiations on health care, starting with efforts to bring down prescription drug costs.

He pitched ideas that Republicans have rejected, including a government-run plan, or public option, to compete with private plans and a permanent extension of cost-sharing payments that reimburse insurers who are required to cover low-income customers’ out-of-pocket costs.

Mr. Schumer is crediting outside groups for slowing down the Republican plan, which he characterized as a tax cut for wealthy Americans and a bad deal for those who are struggling.

“The core of their bill,” he said, “is so, so out of touch with what the average American, even the average Republican, wants.”

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

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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