GOP Delays Health Care Vote Amid Defections, Disagreement

Senate Republicans Tuesday postponed a planned vote on the GOP bill to replace Obamacare until after the July 4th recess. 

The move is a blow to Republican leaders who had been pushing for a vote this week out of concern that a delay would only make it more difficult to pass. But it became clear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have time to round up enough support in the few days before their desired deadline of Friday.

Republican leaders plan to work on a revised version of the bill with the goal of coming to an agreement by as early as Friday, giving them time to send the new version to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis over the Fourth of July break, according to a senior Republican aide. 

At least five GOP senators had said they were not prepared to vote in favor of a procedural measure that was slated to take place as early as Tuesday evening. That vote was necessary to begin the process that would have allowed the Senate to take a final vote by the end of the week. With no Democratic support for the bill, GOP leadership needs the votes of at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators to pass it. 

Following the announcement, most of the Republican senators boarded buses and traveled to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss the bill. 

“We have really no choice but to solve the situation,” Trump said at the beginning of the meeting. “Obamacare is a total disaster,” he added, “it’s melting down as we speak.” 

“This will be great if we get it done. 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,” Trump added. “But I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public.”

Following the meeting, McConnell said Trump “got an opportunity to hear from the various members who have concerns” about the bill. “I think the meeting was very helpful,” he said, “I think everybody around the table is interested in getting to yes, interested in getting an outcome because we know the status quo is simply unacceptable, unsustainable and no action is just not an option.” 

Both conservative and moderate Republicans have expressed reservations with the bill since it was unveiled last week after being written in secret by McConnell and his staff. Conservatives were disappointed that the legislation does not constitute a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, while moderates in the senate are concerned about the deep cuts in Medicaid spending.

Earlier on Tuesday, McConnell met with Vice President Mike Pence and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in Pence’s office on the Senate side of the Capitol Tuesday before heading to the weekly GOP lunch where senators were told the news. 

McConnell said he’s still “optimistic” that a bill can pass. 

“We’re going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have that we’re continuing to try to litigate,” McConnell told reporters later in the afternoon. 

Leaving the Capitol, Pence also vowed success. “We’re going to keep working it until we get it done,” he said. 

Republicans mostly agreed that it was better to delay the vote. Many had reservations about the bill that would dramatically cut Medicaid, repeal all of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes on the wealthy and on the health industry while keeping much of Obamacare’s structure in place but with less generous benefits. 

“It’s the only way forward,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. 

“Better to get it right than to get it fast,” added Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

Converging disparate concerns into one bill is still going to be difficult, even with more time. Republicans go home to face their constituents for one week on Friday where they will likely hear from voters about a plan that is largely unpopular, receiving just 16 percent support in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Exacerbating some concerns on Monday was a report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which released its analysis of the bill, estimating that it would result in 22 million more uninsured Americans, compared to current law, by 2026. 

Opposition to the current bill continued to grow after the delay was announced. “When did we get to the point where we said, ‘No, we’re not going to talk to Democrats about a fix?’ We should be working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told NBC News Tuesday. 

At the White House meeting, Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, were seated at either side of the president. Both have voiced concerns with the cuts to Medicaid and the defunding of Planned Parenthood. 

“I think it gave the president the opportunity to hear some different points of views and some of the different approaches to some of the challenges that we face in terms of putting together the votes to get past this,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said of the meeting with Trump. 

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, R-Wis., who has complained that the process was moving too quickly, said that increased involvement from Trump is welcome. 

“I’m glad they’re now engaged,” Johnson said. 

Democrats planned a day of action and news conferences drawing attention to their opposition to the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill “rotten to the core.” 

“I don’t see this as a health care bill. I see this as an opportunity for the Republican leadership to peruse two ideological aims,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in an interview with NBC News, referring to tax cuts for the wealthy and gutting Medicaid. 

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., walked down the hall of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, quietly singing the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — a song that President Trump played at his campaign rallies last year.