Republicans try to pick up the pieces
after healthcare defeat
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[July 29, 2017]
By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The seven-year
Republican quest to scrap Obamacare, a major campaign vow by President
Donald Trump, lay in ruins on Friday after the Senate failed to
dismantle the healthcare law, with congressional leaders now planning to
move on to other matters.
John McCain, the maverick 80-year-old senator and 2008 Republican
presidential nominee, cast the deciding vote in the dramatic
early-morning showdown on the Senate floor as a bill to repeal key
elements of Obamacare was defeated, 51-49, dealing Trump a crushing
McCain, who flew from Arizona this week after being diagnosed with brain
cancer and was heading back for further treatment starting on Monday,
joined fellow Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in voting
with Senate Democrats unified against the legislation.
"It's time to move on," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose
reputation as a master strategist was diminished, said on the Senate
floor after the vote at roughly 1:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).
While House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said fellow Republicans
should not give up on healthcare, he cited other pressing issues that
needed attention, including major tax-cut legislation sought by Trump.
"We have so much work still to do," Ryan said in a statement.
The Senate's healthcare failure called into question the Republican
Party's ability to govern even as it controls the White House, Senate
and House of Representatives.
Trump has not had a major legislative victory after more than six months
in office, and his administration is mired in investigations into
contacts between his election campaign and Russia and high-level White
House staff infighting. He had promised to get major healthcare
legislation, tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending through
Congress in short order.
Also on the legislative agenda are spending bills for the fiscal year
beginning Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown and raising the U.S.
Speaking in Brentwood, New York, on Long Island, Trump expressed dismay
at the bill's failure, saying, "I said from the beginning, let Obamacare
implode and then do it (pass legislation). I turned out to be right. Let
Trump, who earlier on Twitter said the three Republicans who voted no
"let America down," again took aim at lawmakers in his own party. "Boy,
oh boy, they've been working on that one for seven years," he said in
Brentwood. "Can you believe that? The swamp. But we'll get it done."
Some lawmakers urged a bipartisan effort to buttress the existing
healthcare system. With the partisan divide as wide as ever in
Washington, it remained to be seen if a bipartisan approach can get off
McCain said the defeated bill did not offer meaningful reform and that
its defeat presents "an opportunity to start fresh" on legislation
crafted by lawmakers in both parties.
"I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to trust each
other, stop the political gamesmanship and put the healthcare needs of
the American people first," McCain said.
Top congressional Democrats urged a bipartisan effort to fix problems in
the Obamacare law without repealing it. "Change it, improve it, but
don't just take a knife and try to destroy it and put nothing in its
place," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson said he was working with Republican
Collins on a bipartisan effort on healthcare.
While Ryan was able to secure House passage of a comprehensive bill to
gut Obamacare in May, McConnell earlier in the week was unable to win
passage of similarly broad healthcare legislation amid intraparty
squabbling and competing demands by hard-line conservatives and
moderates. On Friday morning, he failed to get even a stripped-down,
so-called skinny bill over the finish line.
[to top of second column]
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office prior to
an all night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill in
Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Killing the Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack
Obama's signature domestic policy achievement dubbed Obamacare, has
been a passion for Republicans since its 2010 enactment over their
unified opposition, and was a key campaign promise by Trump last
Republicans lawmakers, some of whom have been gleeful about razing
Obama's presidential legacy, now fear a backlash from their
conservative political base that could affect the 2018 congressional
For the moment, the Affordable Care Act, which extended health
insurance to 20 million people and drove the percentage of uninsured
people to historic lows, remains in place and must be overseen by an
administration that is hostile to it.
This leaves health insurers unsure of how long the administration
will continue to make billions of dollars in Obamacare payments that
help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income Americans.
Schumer warned against any efforts to sabotage the law.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which represents insurers
across the country, said it would work to ensure a smooth open
enrollment period from Nov. 1-Dec. 15 and stabilize the individual
insurance market under Obamacare for the long term.
Shares of health insurers, which had fought against the bill's
proposed repeal of the mandate that Americans obtain insurance, were
up. Aetna Inc rose 0.9 percent, Anthem Inc gained 2.3 percent and
Humana Inc edged up 0.2 percent.
On Wall Street, shares of hospitals were mostly higher because of
the dwindling prospects for big cuts in the Medicaid insurance
program for the poor and disabled. Community Health Systems Inc rose
2.2 percent, HCA Healthcare Inc gained 0.6 percent and Tenet
Healthcare Corp edged up 0.1 percent. Republicans have long
denounced Obamacare - which expanded Medicaid and created online
marketplaces for individuals to obtain coverage - as an intrusion by
government on people's healthcare decisions.
Veteran House Republican Tom Cole said he thought there were "a
number" of other Republican senators who were uncomfortable with the
Senate's healthcare legislation but were able to vote "yes" knowing
McCain's vote would kill it.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain, met on
Friday with Trump to discuss Graham's proposal to take tax money
raised by Obamacare and send it back to the states in the form of
healthcare block grants, the senator's office said.
The skinny bill, released just three hours before voting began,
would have retroactively repealed Obamacare's penalty on individuals
who do not obtain health insurance, repealed for eight years a
penalty on certain businesses that do not provide employees with
insurance and repealed a tax on medical devices until 2020.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting
by Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Rodrigo Campos,
Amanda Becker, David Morgan and Eric Walsh; Writing by Will Dunham;
Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)
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