Republicans again failed to get 50 senators to back their health care bill
Lawmakers are moving on to another tough lift -- tax reform
Republicans on Capitol Hill rallied around a familiar political slogan for the better part of the last seven years: “Repeal Obamacare.”
They’re finally leaving that chant behind – at least for now.
GOP senators were forced to acknowledge on Tuesday that their eleventh hour push to repeal the Affordable Care Act had failed. For the second time in two months, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly conceded that he could not find 50 senators who would support partisan legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, made all the more painful by the reality that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
But unlike after the last failed attempt to repeal Obamacare in July, senators are in agreement that it is time for Republicans to move on to other things.
“Health care, as far as I am concerned, is over,” said GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the finance committee. “Tax reform is where we have to do the job.”
With 10 months of the legislative calendar behind them, Republicans acknowledge they’ve lost precious time and burned well past the early days of the Trump presidency. Members know they cannot afford to make the same errors on tax reform and survive the 2018 midterms unscathed.
Behind the scenes, the “big six,” a coalition of Senate, House and White House leaders have been working to hash out a framework and build broad consensus on tax reform. Republican leaders are preparing to roll out principles for their plan Wednesday.
“We have to deliver on tax reform,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership. “Failure is not an option.”
Putting it differently, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana told Bloomberg News that if Republican leaders in Congress fail on taxes like they had on passing health care bills, “I may go home and put a bag over my head. And hide my head in a bag.”
Still, there was no papering over the fact that Tuesday’s defeat on health care was another setback for McConnell. The majority leader has spent years crafting the Republican’s message around defeating the Affordable Care Act. Even his own re-election in 2014 echoed the promise. And across the Capitol, House Republicans blamed McConnell for not being able to bring his conference together.
Asked if he still supported McConnell as majority leader, Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker had a warning.
“Our faith does wane sometimes,” Walker, a North Carolina congressman, said. “We would hope that the majority leader would listen to his constituents as much as we listen to ours throughout the states we represent. We hope he can deliver on those promises but if not then we put all options on the table.”
McConnell’s fellow senators were reticent to blame him for the defeat.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a sometimes harsh critic of McConnell, declined to attack his leader.
“It’s frustrating that we haven’t gotten there yet. I’m frustrated. Everybody else is frustrating, but we’re making progress. We’re closer than many outside observers believe,” Cruz said.
Others insisted that repealing Obamacare would remain an important mission for the party – even if that goal isn’t achieved this week.
“We haven’t given up yet,” said Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby.
For now, Republican senators say they’ve learned some valuable lessons from the failed Graham-Cassidy bill. When the party is ready to tackle health care again, most members seemed to agree they will need an entirely new strategy.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a co-sponsor of the Graham-Cassidy bill that was declared dead Tuesday, said he would like to attempt Obamacare repeal again through the 2019 budget reconciliation bill – but without the secrecy and rushed process that drew ire from his colleagues, including his best friend, Sen. John McCain.
“We’ll have a different process. We’ll go through the committee process. We’ll mark the bill up through committee. We’ll have three or months to talk to our Democratic friends to see if we’ll have a breakthrough,” Graham said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to properly attribute a quote to Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.