A couple weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was optimistic that the Senate GOP Obamacare replacement bill would be passed before members left for recess on July 4th. Now, as reported yesterday, Mitch McConnell is privately expressing doubts that they can get the bill passed at all.
Not only is the Senator implicitly predicting the bills downfall, he also understands the GOP is going to have to work to secure Obamacare insurance markets. The GOP is in the supermajority now, so a collapse of the healthcare system would be blood on their hands. If they leave Obamacare in place and it collapses, it’s their fault for not being able to pass a replacement. If they craft a replacement and it’s worse than Obamacare, and the current bill is unequivocally worse than Obamacare, they’ll be blamed for that too.
McConnell has the unenviable task of trying to placate both ultra conservatives like Ted Cruz and moderates like Susan Collins. With some vulnerable seats in the Senate like Arizona’s Jeff Flake and a number of Senators representing Medicaid Expansion states like Nevada’s Dean Heller, the bill was going to be a tough sell from the start.
In its current form the GOP’s Obamacare replacement, officially known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), has 9 Senate defections. They are Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Shelley Capito of West Virginia. Republicans can only lose two votes and still pass the bill.
There was hope amongst Republican leadership that they would be able to win over some of the initial apostates. Because the CBO score gave the bill a better fiscal score than some were expecting, the idea was to use the financial wiggle room to adjust the bill to appease disparate factions of no voters. Reports from campaign staff suggested things like adding a health savings account for Ted Cruz and putting some more dollars into Medicaid for moderates.
While initially optimistic that these adjustments could lead to the bill’s passage, McConnell has now all but thrown in the towel. At that time, only five GOP Senator had announced their opposition, meaning they just had to win over 3 of them. Rather than winning over anyone, that list has expanded to nine. Winning over seven Senators on a bill that Axios reported Friday was the most unpopular bill in Congress in more than three decades is going to be an impossible task.
With President Trump entirely uninterested in advocating for the healthcare plan (and who can blame him?) and McConnell tacitly accepting it’s probably defeat, there simply isn’t the political willpower to get this bill passed. Winning the support they need would likely take at least a couple of months of intense negotiations and concessions. McConnell and company aren’t willing to use up their already thinning political capital and squander the chance to pass other big reforms. The GOP healthcare bill is dead. At least for now.