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McConnell's New Plan: Repeal Obamacare Now, Replace in Two Years

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill on July 13, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans are “now try(ing) a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare” since they can’t muster the votes to move forward variations of the House repeal-and-replace bill.

Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) announced their opposition simultaneously Monday evening, surprising congressional leaders and, with the opposition of Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) firm, effectively killing the legislation.

On the Senate floor this morning, McConnell argued that “the men and women we represent, Americans who are hurting, middle-class families … deserve better than Obamacare’s failures.”

“We worked hard to provide them with a better way. We did so in the knowledge that this task would not be easy. We understood it would not come quickly, but we knew that it was the right thing to do so we pushed forward anyway,” he said. “I believe we must continue to push forward now. I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful. That doesn’t mean we should give up.”

McConnell promised that “in the coming days” the Senate will vote “on a repeal of Obamacare, combined with a stable, two-year transition period as we work toward patient-centered healthcare.”

“A majority of the Senate voted to pass the same repeal legislation back in 2015. President Obama vetoed it then. President Trump — President Trump will sign it now,” he added.

“I imagine many Democrats were celebrating last night. I hope they consider what they are celebrating. The American people are hurting. They need relief. And it’s regretful that our Democratic colleagues decided early on that they did not want to engage with us seriously in the process to deliver that relief.”

McConnell argued that the new legislation “will provide the opportunity for senators of all parties to engage with a fresh start and a new beginning for the American people.”

The legislation McConnell is using as a model passed in December 2015 by a vote of 52-47. In the 114th Congress, the balance was 54 GOPs to 46 Dems and independents; Republicans lost two seats in this Congress.

Lee also objected to the 2015 bill, arguing it didn’t go far enough, along with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who were running for president at the time. Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) objected to the bill’s defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Collins has maintained her opposition to any straight repeal, a course of action championed by Paul.

Outside of a closed caucus meeting on Capitol Hill this morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he was “worried that Obamacare will stand and the law will continue to collapse and people will get hurt in the process.”

“Look, this is a legislative process. It’s a hard process. We in the House are proud of the bill that we did. We passed a bill that we think is sufficient to addressing the real problem, to keeping our promise. The Senate has a razor-thin majority. It’s a 52-seat majority. In reconciliation, you need 50 votes,” Ryan said.

“So, they’re working through their process. I’m not going to get ahead of the next steps because, frankly, we just have to see what they can do and find out what it is — where it is we can go because we have a serious problem on our hands.”

Despite the call of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to start from scratch on a bipartisan bill to fix Obamacare, Ryan declared the Democrats are still not “interested in working on this.”

“We’ve done this in the House. We passed our simultaneous repeal-and-replace bill. We think that’s the solution. We think that’s the best way to go. And so we’re just going to have to wait and hope that our friends in the Senate can figure out how they can get a bill passed, get into conference, or whatever, and get something passed,” Ryan said.

He added that if Democrats “want to get away from government-run healthcare, if they don’t want to double-down on the failure of Obamacare, then I think we have something to work with.”

“The problem is we just haven’t seen any evidence of that yet.”

Schumer said this morning on the Senate floor that “after numerous delays, false starts, false predictions, and two pulled votes, it should be crystal clear to everyone on the other side of the aisle that the core of the bill is unworkable.”

“Respectfully, I take issue with the idea Democrats didn’t want to engage on healthcare. The majority leader admitted that he decided the matter for us when he locked Democrats out of the process at the outset,” he said. “…Passing repeal and having it go into effect two years later is in many ways worse than the Republican healthcare bill that was just rejected by my Republican colleagues. It’s like if our healthcare system was a patient who came in and needed some medicine. The Republicans proposed surgery. The operation was a failure. Now, Republicans are proposing a second surgery that will surely kill the patient. Medicine is needed, bipartisan medicine, not a second surgery.”

Democrats are ready to sit down and work with the GOP, Schumer declared, “if Republicans abandon cuts to Medicaid, abandon huge tax breaks for the wealthy, and agree to go through the regular order, through the committees, with hearings, onto the floor with time for amendments.”

“That’s how we perfect legislation here,” he added. “That’s how it’s been done for 200 years. Almost inevitably when you try to draft something behind closed doors and not vet it with the public, it becomes a failure, in this case a disaster.”