US Senate Republicans delay vote on healthcare bill
Trump told senators at the White House that it would be "great" to pass the legislation. Photograph: (Reuters)
Facing a potentially disastrous defeat by members of his own party, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday delayed a vote on healthcare legislation that has been a top Republican priority as he scrambled to win more support.
President Donald Trump summoned all 52 Republican senators to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to discuss how to proceed after party leaders failed to win over a small band of Republican holdouts.
"We're going to talk and we're going to see what we can do. We're getting very close," Trump told senators as the meeting began.
McConnell had been pushing for a vote ahead of the July 4 recess that starts at the end of the week. The legislation would repeal major elements of Obamacare and shrink the Medicaid government healthcare program for the poor, which was expanded under Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature domestic legislative achievement.
McConnell, whose party has a razor-thin majority in the 100-member Senate, told reporters that Republican leaders were still working to get the 50 votes needed to pass the bill. Vice President Mike Pence could provide the crucial vote needed to break a tie.
McConnell said the White House was anxious to help write legislation that could pass the Senate.
"We're going to press on," McConnell said after he announced the delay in the vote, saying that leaders would keep working to make senators feel "comfortable" with the bill. "We're optimistic we're going to get to a result that is better than the status quo."
While the House of Representatives narrowly passed a measure last month to replace Obamacare, the Senate version faces concerns from both moderate and conservative Republicans, as well as united Democratic opposition.
Moderate Republicans worried that millions of people would lose their insurance. Conservatives said the bill does not do enough to erase Obamacare.
Republican Opposition Grows
The bill's prospects were not helped by a Congressional Budget Office analysis on Monday saying the measure would cause 22 million Americans to lose insurance over the next decade, although it would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over that period.
The report prompted Senator Susan Collins, a key Republican moderate, to say she could not support the bill as it stands. At least four conservative Republican senators said they were still opposed after the CBO analysis.
Three more Republicans, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, said after the delay was announced that they opposed the current draft of the legislation.
Portman and Capito cited the bill's Medicaid provisions and how that would impact efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has taken a heavy toll in both their states.
"I think giving time to digest is a good thing," said Senator Bob Corker after the delay was announced. "I think that some of the issues that people have raised, that are heartfelt issues, to their own families, we exacerbated by the way the bill is constructed, and I think there’s a way to overcome that.”
U.S. stock prices fell on Tuesday, as the decision to postpone the vote added to investor worries on whether the Trump administration can deliver on its promises of tax reform and deregulation, as well as changes to the health sector. Those expected changes have all driven a rally in U.S. stocks this year.
“The market likes certainty and now there’s uncertainty. What is this going to look like when this gets out of the next iteration?" said Peter Costa, president of trading firm Empire Executions Inc.
The Fight is Not Over
Passing the measure would hand Trump a legislative win as he seeks to shift attention after weeks of questions over Russia's role in last year's U.S. presidential election.
Trump told senators at the White House that it would be "great" to pass the legislation. But "if we don't get it done it's just going to be something that we're not going to like and that's OK and I'll understand that very well," he said.
McConnell has promised since 2010 that Republicans, who view Obamacare as a costly government intrusion, would destroy the law "root and branch" if they controlled Congress and the White House. Their electoral victories in 2014 and 2016 were directly tied to that promise, they say.
Republicans worry that failure to deliver will tell voters that they are unable to govern effectively in the run-up to next year's congressional elections.
If the Senate passes a healthcare bill, it will either have to be approved by the House or the two chambers would reconcile the differences in their bills in a conference committee. Otherwise, the House could pass a new version and bounce it back to the Senate.
Lawmakers are expected to leave town by Friday for their July 4 holiday break, which runs all next week. The Senate returns to work on July 10, the House on July 11. Lawmakers then have three weeks in session before their month-long August recess.
Democrats remained united in opposition, blasting the Senate bill as a tax break for the wealthy.
"We know the fight is not over, that is for sure. We're not resting on any laurels," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.