With the defections of Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran on Monday, the Senate plan to repeal and replace Obamacare appears to be dead. It was a conclusion that nearly everyone predicted, seeing as how the proposed bill was already hanging by the merest thread of support. Conservatives in the Senate thought the bill didn’t go far enough, moderates wanted Mitch McConnell to go easier on the cuts to Medicaid expansion, and there wasn’t a hope in hell to get even a single Democrat on board. After seven years of constant promises, the Republican Party has once again failed to come through for their voters.
Now, McConnell and Trump want to move forward with what many conservative outlets have been begging them to do from the beginning: Forget about “replacing” Obamacare and just commit to getting this atrocious law off the books.
“We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare,” McConnell said on Tuesday. “I believe we owe them at least that much. In the coming days, the Senate will take up and vote on a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period as we work toward patient-centered health care.”
The White House has put its stamp of approval on the next phase of the strategy. In a speech to the National Retail Federation, Vice President Mike Pence said, “President Trump and I fully support Leader McConnell’s decision to pursue a clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The Senate should vote to repeal now and replace later, or return to the legislation carefully crafted in the House and Senate, but either way— inaction is not an option. Congress needs to step up, Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now.”
That sounds nice and all, but the problem is that it will not be any easier. Already, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has said she will not vote for a full repeal of the ACA.
“My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians,” said the Republican senator. “With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.”
Maine’s Susan Collins, who was one of the first senators to oppose the latest draft of the healthcare bill, has also made it clear that she will not support a clean repeal of Obamacare.
Should even a single other Republican senator take a similar stance – and the odds are overwhelmingly likely that they will – McConnell will be left with only two choices. Either work with the Democrats to “fix” the problems with Obamacare – a solution that is certain to be VERY unsatisfying to the millions of conservatives who wanted this law ripped out “root and branch – or simply let Obamacare implode on its own. The chaos this would cause in the health insurance marketplace is essentially unknowable and the political fallout could be extraordinary.
This mess is going to come back to haunt Republicans when voters go to the polls in 2018 and 2020.