Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.
Senate leaders’ plan to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act before the July 4 recess has hit a roadblock: a mini-revolt by a cadre of Republicans from both the moderate and far-right wings of the party who announced Monday they would not vote to advance the bill as it’s currently written.
On Tuesday morning, a fifth senator joined the opposition: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Lee had previously excoriated the effort as a “caricature of a Republican health care bill,” noting that it leaves in place many of Obamacare’s regulations and prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthy as well as payments to insurance companies. A spokesperson for Lee told TPM: “We are still working with leadership to change base bill.”
The opposition from Lee, Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) effectively halts the bill’s progress, and with several other Republicans voicing doubts and concerns, the Senate’s multi-month effort to roll back Obamacare appears to be in jeopardy if changes are not made.
Even as GOP leadership vowed that a vote this week will still go forward and the bill will pass, some in the rank and file voiced their doubts. “Right now, we don’t have the votes,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said bluntly. Many other Republicans refused to tell reporters on Tuesday how they would vote on a motion to proceed, saying they needed more time to weigh the issue as they headed into a luncheon on Capitol Hill with Vice President Mike Pence.
As doubts about the bill’s passage linger, GOP leaders and their allies are pulling out all the stops: inviting some dissenters to dine at the White House, running attack ads against others, and issuing dire warnings that if the bill fails, the party will lose leverage on every other issue it hopes to make progress on in the years to come.
But several Republican lawmakers continue to wobble despite those carrots and sticks.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on Monday night told reporters that the bill does not do the one thing he said was his priority: reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs for health insurance consumers. “It doesn’t,” he acknowledged.
Cassidy was not yet ready to say whether he, too, would vote no on a motion to proceed with the bill, but said that “more time would be better than less.”
“A lot of my colleagues feel, as do I, that we have a lot of questions still, and would like to have answers before we proceed,” he said.
Due to Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate, the GOP can only afford to lose two members’ votes, and even then can only pass the bill if Pence casts a tie-breaking vote. Even more Republicans may bail if the ship is seen to be sinking, not wanting to be saddled with a doomed and extremely unpopular bill going into a midterm election year.
“The bottom line is: you’re not going to get 49 [votes]. You’re either going to get 50 or probably like 35,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Monday. He offered with a laugh that he would not be “the guy” to bring the bill down, but the same cannot be said for some of his more vulnerable colleagues.
Noting the demands for more time to consider the bill, Graham said that no amount of time could fully bridge the divisions in the Republican Party and so he believes it may be better to vote sooner rather than later.
“I don’t know if you took another year it would change much,” he said. “There seems to be a real philosophical divide. Some people think the Medicaid growth rates are not generous enough. You have people who believe there is too much Obamacare left. I don’t know how you bridge that gap.”
With a vote still up in the air, much more attention is being lavished on the conservative side than the moderate side of that gap. While Paul was invited to the White House Tuesday for a private meeting with the president, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said no one has reached out her regarding her concerns.
“I have not heard back from leadership any suggestions for changes,” she said. “I hope we can go back to the drawing board and work in a bipartisan fashion to correct the very real problems that do exist with the Affordable Care Act.”
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.