(Reuters) – Opposition from within their own party yesterday prompted U.S. Senate Republicans to postpone a vote on their Trumpcare bill, prompting a summons from the White House.
The delay put the future of a longtime top Republican priority in doubt amid concerns about the Senate bill from both moderate and conservative Republicans. With Democrats united in their opposition, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes among their own ranks in the Senate.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had pushed for a vote ahead of the July 4 recess, but his margin for victory evaporated after the Congressional Budget Office this week said the Senate bill would add 22 million to the uninsured rolls by 2026. At least six Republicans said they would not support advancing the bill, which would repeal major elements of Obamacare and shrink the Medicaid government healthcare program for the poor.
“We’re going to press on,” McConnell said yesterday in announcing the delay, adding that leaders would keep working to make senators “comfortable” with the bill. “We’re optimistic we’re going to get to a result that is better than the status quo.”
At the White House meeting with most of the 52 Republican senators, the president said it was vital to reach agreement on the Senate healthcare measure because Obamacare was “melting down.”
“So we’re going to talk and we’re going to see what we can do. We’re getting very close,” he said, adding, “If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s okay.”
“I think we can get 50 votes to yes by the end of the week,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said after the White House meeting.
Republican opposition grows
The House of Representatives last month passed its own version of Trumpcare, but the Senate version has been criticized from both the left and the right. Moderate Republicans worried millions of people would lose their insurance. Conservatives said the bill does not do enough to erase Obamacare.
The bill’s prospects were not helped by the CBO analysis, which also predicted that the Senate version would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over that period.
The report prompted Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to say she could not support the bill as it stands. At least five conservative Republican senators said they were still opposed after the CBO analysis.
Three more Republicans, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), said after the delay was announced that they oppose the current draft.
Portman and Capito cited the bill’s Medicaid cutbacks and how that would hurt efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has taken a heavy toll in their states. The Medicaid program was expanded under former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.
“I think giving time to digest is a good thing,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said after the delay was announced.
“Uncertainy” on Wall Street
U.S. stock prices fell, as the decision to postpone the vote added to investor worries about Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises of tax reform and deregulation, as well as changes to the health sector. Those expected changes have driven a rally in U.S. stocks this year.
The benchmark S&P 500 index closed down 0.8%, and the Dow Jones industrial average finished down 0.5%.
“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.
Passing the measure would be a win for Trump as he seeks to shift attention after weeks of questions over Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
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. Republicans worry a failure to deliver will cost them votes in 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 a conference committee. Otherwise, the House could pass a new version and send 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.