Senate Republican leaders, lacking enough support to pass their Obamacare repeal and replace bill draft, have delayed their vote on the measure until after they return from a weeklong July 4 recess.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed the schedule change, telling reporters on Tuesday afternoon that leadership would need more time to get the votes to pass the health care bill.
“It’s a big, complicated subject … We’re still optimistic that we’re going to get there,” McConnell said, giving a firm "no" when asked if the party's efforts to pass the bill were dead.
The move came after six Republican senators said publicly that they could not support the health care draft bill as written, while several more remained on the fence. GOP leadership had pushed hard for a vote this week, arguing that it would only get harder to pass the bill the longer members wait.
But on Tuesday afternoon, just a day after he tweeted that senators needed to vote this week on the health care bill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the Republicans' vote-counter, told reporters: "We need more time ... It's a conversation and we haven't finished our conversation."
After the announcement was made, three more Republicans came out publicly against the bill. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio announced they were opposing the bill due to its cuts to Medicaid and insufficient funding for opioid addiction. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas tweeted that the bill "missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support."
They join the ranks of Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada, who have cited concerns about the bill's cuts to Medicaid and its rollback of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Others, like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have said that the bill doesn't go far enough in repealing Obamacare's regulations and subsidies.
"I think that was an important step. I certainly wasn't ready," Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has expressed reservations about the bill's handling of Medicaid and its provision defunding Planned Parenthood, said of the delay on Tuesday.
Johnson, too, said leadership made the right call. "I'm really appreciative of the fact that leadership decided to take this approach, give us a little more time trying to get this right," he said.
Senate Republicans can only afford to lose two votes on the health care bill, provided Vice President Mike Pence breaks the tie that would result in the Senate.
Republican senators gathered at the White House for a health care meeting with President Trump late Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Collins said Trump gave opening remarks, but then let senators air their concerns.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership, said Trump did not get into "great specificity" about what he wants to see in the bill, but said Trump is aware of the main points of discussion. "He was listening and trying to pull people together," said Thune.
According to Thune, Heller brought up the topic of attack ads launched against him by a pro-Trump group, but Thune said it wasn't heavily discussed.
After the Congressional Budget Office released its review of the Senate bill on Monday, showing it would lead to 22 million more people lacking insurance than under Obamacare, at least five Republicans took their opposition to the bill a step further — saying they’d vote against a procedural motion to allow the Senate to vote on the bill at all.
Pence joined Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the bill with them at their weekly Senate lunch. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was also on the Hill on Tuesday. Some of the bill's opponents, including Paul, said they had personally heard from the White House on the issue prior to Tuesday's announcement. “I think the president’s open to making the bill better," Paul said on Tuesday.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker told reporters that the Senate will take this week to work out the issues in the bill, then have it rescored by the CBO over recess. "I think we're going to have to have [another score]," Johnson said on Tuesday.
Thune, said on Tuesday that he believes that "our leadership is open, certainly, to changes and receptive to ... ideas" from the Republicans who have issues with the bill. "So I think that, you know, pushing it into next week is a realistic and practical consideration that Sen. McConnell made."
Thune said that the delay would be helpful to members who are still on the fence, but added: "The politics of this doesn't get any easier the longer you wait."
Still, Thune said that he doesn't think the negotiations are a zero-sum game, in which every move made to appease one side will alienate the other. “A lot of what our more conservative members want are more market reforms, and what some of our more moderate members want are adjustments to Medicaid,” Thune said. “Fiscally we’ve got some headroom we can work with on both the tax credit and Medicaid.”
McConnell has around $200 billion of wiggle room to redirect toward targeted promises that could win over individual senators. (Under Senate rules, the bill must reduce the deficit by at least as much as the bill passed by the House, meaning $119 billion over a decade. The CBO projected the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $321 billion over a decade.) McConnell could throw in money to combat the opioid epidemic (the current bill contains just $2 billion to that end), for example, or for rural health programs that could make a big difference in states like Alaska.
The delay is a blow for leadership, who had hoped to have health care out of the way before the July 4 recess. But the House, too, had to delay its vote on health care in order to do some last-minute wrangling before ultimately passing the bill.
"I think they're going through the same thing we went through, and, you know, they're ironing out their issues that they have, and that can't be rushed," Republican Rep. Lou Barletta said in response to rumors of the vote delay. However, he added: "I'm confident they'll get it done."
Most Republican senators exiting Tuesday's meeting with Pence still sounded confident that they would get enough votes to pass the bill, given some more time.
"We don't have the votes right now," South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said, but he added that he thinks they'll get there with work.
Asked whether he was concerned that Republicans would lose their momentum on the bill, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said he didn't "think so."
"Ultimately until we get enough questions answered — folks have real questions, substantive questions — then why vote when we can wait a little longer so they can get their answers?" Scott said.
Emma Loop and Lissandra Villa contributed to this story.
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