U.S. Senate Republicans overcame one hurdle on their race to repeal and replace Obamacare, narrowly passing a procedural motion to open debate on the measure, but failed to win enough votes to pass the actual bill.
The Senate deadlocked at 50-50 on whether to move forward on the healthcare debate, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote to open debate on the Trumpcare bill. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were the only Republicans to oppose the measure; former opponents, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer and returned today to vote on the measure, tilted towards opening the bill for debate.
But a later vote on the Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill went down on a 43-57 vote, shy of the required 60-vote majority. Nine Republicans including Collins – Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – crossed the aisle to vote against the measure. The Senate proposal would have made deep cuts to Medicaid and reduced Obamacare subsidies to lower-income people.
Polls show Obamacare is now far more popular than the Republican alternatives. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate’s replacement bill could lead to as many as 22 million fewer Americans being insured.
President Trump praised the original vote to begin debate, saying that it was “a giant step to end the Obamacare nightmare.”
“As this vote shows, inaction is not an option, and now the legislative process can move forward as intended to produce a bill that lowers costs and increases options for all Americans. The Senate must now pass a bill and get it to my desk so we can finally end the Obamacare disaster once and for all,” Trump wrote in an official statement.
Majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hopes to finish work on a bill to begin the repeal-and-replace process this week.
“This is just the beginning, we’re not out here to spike the football. This is a long way, but we’ll finish at the end of the week,” McConnell said.
A number of different approaches for the bill have been floated over the past few weeks, including a straight repeal of Obamacare with no replacement plan, previous versions which alter Obamacare and overhaul Medicaid and a new “skinny repeal” which would end the Obamacare individual coverage mandate and employer mandates alongside the medical device tax.
“Some of us want clean repeal, some of us want the Senate leadership bill, they’re both going to get a vote early on and I think that’s a fair way to do it. If either one of them fails and another one succeeds, maybe we can find something in between that actually succeeds,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said.
Last week, Trump demanded that GOP senators return their attention to repealing and replacing Obamacare, despite failing to rally enough votes to pass the Republican-inked Trumpcare bill, or a straight repeal of the healthcare legislation.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.