WASHINGTON — Republicans will repeal and replace the health care law and overhaul the tax code without Democratic help or votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday.
“It’s clear that in the early months it’s going to be a Republicans-only exercise,” the Kentucky senator said at a news conference before lawmakers left for a weeklong President’s Day recess. “We don’t expect any Democratic cooperation on the replacement of Obamacare, we don’t expect any Democratic cooperation on tax reform.”
McConnell has condemned Democrats for passing Obamacare in the first place, in 2010, without any Republican votes, claiming the partisan exercise set the law up to fail. “The mess to come was inevitable,” McConnell wrote in his memoir last year.
But now he’s promising the same approach himself, in a sign that the partisanship and polarization dividing the country and Congress under President Donald Trump will not end anytime soon.
“Clearly this is not one of those bipartisan ‘Kumbaya’ moments, and so we, as Republicans, expect that both of those issues will be — which are very big issues — will have to be tackled Republican-only,” McConnell said.
A strictly partisan approach on major legislation is a departure in the Senate, where most significant bills require involvement by both parties. Republicans plan to use a parliamentary maneuver to get health care and tax legislation through the narrowly divided Senate as part of a budget bill that requires only a simple majority to pass and can’t be blocked by Democrats.
But McConnell said the polarization in Congress is Democrats’ fault because they haven’t come to terms with the fact that Trump won the election.
“I’m hopeful that, as I said earlier, when the fever breaks, that maybe we’ll be able to move on,” said McConnell, in a turn of phrase that former President Barack Obama sometimes used to express hope that opposition from the tea party right might recede, which it never did.
McConnell made his comments as the Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the 14th Senate vote to approve Cabinet and Cabinet-level nominations by Trump, most of them pushed through on nearly party-line votes over angry Democratic protests.
“It is the worst Cabinet, I think, in the history of America, certainly in my lifetime,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York fumed ahead of the vote. “A swamp Cabinet, billionaires, bankers.”
But Democrats have been able to do little to stop the confirmations, though they have slowed the process to a crawl, and one Trump nominee, Andy Puzder, withdrew himself from contention for labor secretary, an outcome Democrats claimed as a victory.
Democrats may be similarly powerless to stop Republicans from repealing and replacing Obama’s health care law and overhauling the tax code, but on those issues, divisions within the GOP already threaten to derail the process. Key Senate Republicans have rejected the House GOP approach to paying for the tax overhaul, while important details are missing that could easily derail the House GOP health care plan, such as how much it will cost.
Overall, with the White House distracted and lurching from one crisis to another, Republicans lament they have little to show for their efforts at a point when Obama had already claimed major legislative accomplishments as his administration ended its first month.
“We’re three weeks into a new administration, and we’re not getting a hell of a lot done,” Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, said earlier this week.