I ask you to consider the irony of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delaying a vote on the Senate bill to repeal Obamacare until Senator John McCain recovers from surgery to remove a blood clot above his eye.
McConnell believes the least reliable Republican vote in the Senate is crucial to passage of health care reform? Is he really that desperate?
I’m afraid he is. With two GOP senators already announcing their opposition to the bill, McConnell has no room for maneuvering. He needs all 50 remaining GOP votes –and Vice President Pence’s tiebreaker — to pass the bill and move on to what promises to be a contentious conference committee with the House.
McConnell gave no new timetable for the vote when he announced the delay late Saturday, saying only that the the Senate will “defer consideration” of the bill while working on other matters. GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine opposed the bill already, and McCain’s absence next week would likely have made it impossible to proceed.
A half-dozen key senators, including McCain, were undecided on whether to go ahead with a procedural vote, putting the bill’s future in serious jeopardy before McConnell punted.
McCain revealed on Saturday that he had a blood clot removed on Friday at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. His office said he would spend next week in Arizona recovering from the surgery, leaving McConnell short of the votes to move forward. Republicans control only 52 votes in the chamber, and the early opposition to the bill from Collins and Paul means McConnell can’t afford to lose any more votes from his party given the united Democratic opposition.
“While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act,” McConnell said.
The delay is probably a blessing in disguise for McConnell. While the chances of passing the bill remain slim, putting off the vote next week will allow the White House to bring the full force of its lobbying efforts to bear on reluctant senators.
Additions offered by Senator Ted Cruz have breathed some life into the bill, but it’s still an uphill climb:
Those additions have not yet garnered the support of 50 votes to even start debate on the bill. Cruz signed onto the latest version after his amendment was included, but a number of Republicans remain undecided on voting to advance the legislation, including: Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Jeff Flake of Arizona and McCain.
Many of those senators are waiting for their Republican governors to weigh in on the legislation before moving forward and are bristling at proposed reductions in Medicaid spending.
The administration has launched an all-out push to convince the likes of Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, but the state executives have been wary of the latest version of the draft, which made no structural changes to phasing out the Medicaid expansion and cutting future Medicaid spending.
“I am struggling to validate the numbers that are being presented to me by the administration versus what I’m hearing from independent [experts],” said Sandoval at a governors’ conference in Rhode Island.
Trump has proven to be a good persuader and and while the bill’s fate is uncertain, it certainly has a better chance of passage with the president working the phones.
The Cruz ideas incorporated into the bill have drawn a lot of conservative support. He wants to eliminate many of the mandated coverages that Obamacare requires, which would not only lower the cost of health insurance but give the consumer more choices.
But moderates are still balking at the Medicaid cuts and some conservatives want the states to have the power to pick and choose which coverage mandates insurance companies must include.
Is there enough in the bill that satisfies at least some of the concerns of all sides? In the end, it may come down to a question of party loyalty, as Trump makes the pitch that his agenda will be unattainable unless the Senate bill is passed.