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Lacking enough GOP votes, Senate pushes back health bill

June 27, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
Republican leaders gave up Tuesday on trying to get a vote this week on the Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a delay until after the July 4th recess after at least five Republicans said they opposed even beginning debate on the bill. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what’s ahead.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States Senate will not try to repeal and replace the Obamacare health care law until after the Fourth of July recess.

Republican leaders gave up today on getting a vote this week.

Our Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anyone else would hope.

LISA DESJARDINS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to accept the reality: Not enough Republicans are ready to vote for the Republican health care bill as it stands now. At least five Republicans said they opposed even beginning debate. That’s three more than McConnell can afford to lose. So now it’s time to revise.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Consequently, we will not be on the bill this week, but we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.

LISA DESJARDINS: McConnell’s math got tougher after Monday’s report from the Congressional Budget Office. It found the current Senate bill would leave 22 million more uninsured by 2026 than under Obamacare. That includes 15 million who would lose Medicaid coverage.

The average premium would decrease in 2020, but plans would offer less coverage and have substantially higher out-of-pocket costs. Supporters of the bill highlighted the CBO conclusion that it would save $321 billion off deficits.

And Alabama Republican Richard Shelby reminded his colleagues that they all campaigned on repealing Obamacare.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-Ala.: We need some votes. And a lot of people ran on repealing it. Now we’re going to see if they keep their word.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: It is difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill.

LISA DESJARDINS: The bill hit problems from two sides. Moderate Maine Senator Susan Collins said she is a no because of a one-year defunding to Planned Parenthood funding and also because of sharp cuts for those on Medicaid. Medicaid is also a concern for Dean Heller, whose state of Nevada has expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, several GOP conservatives, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz, said the bill doesn’t repeal enough and spends too much on subsidies. Party leaders mounted a full-court press to convert those no votes. Vice President Pence met with senators at the Capitol, and President Trump held a private meeting with Rand Paul at the White House.

Democrats, meanwhile, remained uniformly opposed to the bill. They hosted a protest on the steps of the Capitol, holding pictures of constituents they said would lose coverage under the Republican plan.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer:

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: If our Republican colleagues stick to this base bill, which so hurts working families, which so benefits multimillionaires, and them almost alone, we’re going to fight the bill tooth and nail. And we have a darn good chance of defeating it.

LISA DESJARDINS: Late today, buses ferried Republican senators to the White House for a sit-down with President Trump to talk things over.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So, we’re going to talk and we’re going to see what we can do. We’re getting very close. And 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 understand that very well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And then later this evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to reporters and defended the prospects of getting a bill passed eventually.

And Lisa, who has been running around on the hill all day long, joins us now.

So, Lisa, where do things stand?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, they do want to take a vote after the July 4 recess, so a lot of folks are saying, oh, they will come up with a bill in the meantime while they’re on recess.

No, Judy. I talked to Senate Republican Conference chairman John Thune. He said they want the revise their bill and get out a new draft this week, which is ambitious. They want to do it before senators go home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in your assessment from talking to all these senators, what is the main problem here? Why is this failing so far?

LISA DESJARDINS: There were a couple problems. One, the CBO score, Judy. The bill was already in trouble, as we had reported on Monday. But when that score came out …

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Congressional Budget Office.

LISA DESJARDINS: The Congressional Budget Office score, which showed that 22 million Americans lose insurance.

And not just that. It was the depth of that 50-page CBO report that Republicans really got thinking about. Senator Bob Corker told me he read it at 4:00 a.m. this morning and asked for CBO to come up and give a briefing today. They did.

Also, Judy, Republicans weren’t ready. Some of them hadn’t even read this bill, like Chuck Grassley, who I saw today carrying the bill. He told me he hadn’t read it yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, given all that, what is it going to take to get them to 50 votes?

LISA DESJARDINS: Leadership obviously isn’t sure yet, but they have more money to spend. They think we will see more money on opioids, for example, which is something that is popular, health savings accounts, something that most Republicans agree on, but no one can answer that question, Judy, yet.

Do they decrease the Medicaid cuts somehow? Unclear. Do they shift how they’re reforming the Affordable Care Act? Unclear. It’s very a difficult, tricky, formula. They say they can do it, but they obviously haven’t figured out how yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally the role of President Trump in all this?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

There are question marks about that. Some say they were worried that this meeting today would be one where he makes Republicans feel better, but actually doesn’t do anything to change this bill. There are others, like John McCain, who said this kind of a situation requires presidential leadership. Clearly, the president is showing that tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lisa Desjardins has been reporting and will go back to reporting after this.

Thank you, Lisa.

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