Senate Republicans grapple with Obamacare repeal
Divided Senate Republicans frantically tried to revive attempts to overhaul the nation’s health-care system this week after two measures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act went down in defeat. As The Week went to press, lawmakers were holding a series of votes on various alternatives and amendments in an effort to pass an Obamacare replacement bill by week’s end. Republican leaders and President Trump scored a narrow 51-50 victory on Tuesday to start debate on the issue, with Vice President Mike Pence providing the tie-breaking vote. Sen. John McCain, who announced last week he is battling brain cancer, returned to the chamber to a standing ovation and voted for debate to proceed— then admonished colleagues for their paralyzing hyperpartisanship. “We’re getting nothing done, my friends,” McCain said.
Hours later, McCain voted for the Republicans’ most comprehensive plan to replace the ACA—but the measure was decisively defeated, 43-57. The next day, senators rejected a bill that would have repealed the health-care law and given Congress two years to replace it, this time by a 45-55 margin. The Senate was also set to consider a “skinny repeal” that would eliminate the individual mandate but preserve the Medicaid expansion, a move that the Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated would leave 15 million more Americans without health insurance by 2026.
What the columnists said
“Never have we seen such a chaotic, rash legislative process on such a serious matter,” said Jennifer Rubin in The WashingtonPost. Desperate “to pass something, anything that they can call ‘Obamacare repeal,’” GOP senators appear willing to throw millions off Medicaid rolls and spike health-care costs “for many of President Trump’s voters.” With the “skinny repeal,” they’ll encourage younger, healthier people to leave the insurance market, accelerating the Obamacare death spiral. These lawmakers look like “teenagers out for a joy ride”—ones who promised “they’d wreck the family car and will look foolish if they renege.”
Failure to repeal “is not an option,” said Ford O’Connell in the Washington Examiner. Promising to eliminate Obamacare propelled Republicans to power across the country—voters “want the problem solved.” The GOP might want to take a page from Hillary Clinton, of all people. When she lost her 1990s health-care reform bid, she settled for “small-bore ideas,” like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that “moved the ball incrementally.” Republicans should do the same: “Figure out how to get most of what they want now and the rest later.”
Whatever Republicans come up with, Trump owns it, said Sarah Kliff in Vox.com. During the campaign, he repeatedly promised a health-care plan that “covers everyone,” with lower premiums and better care—and “his voters believed him.” Yet every repeal bill so far “breaks that promise,” even as Trump pressures lawmakers to move forward and deliver him a political win. Trump’s base has continued to believe the president is working in their best interest. “If the Senate health bill becomes law, those beliefs will be shattered.” ■