GOP senators suggest bill to repeal health care law 'dead'

2017-07-09 21:45
AP

AP

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Washington - The initial GOP bill to repeal and replace the nation's health law is probably "dead" and President Donald Trump's proposal to just repeal it appears to be a "non-starter", two moderate Republican senators indicated on Sunday as their party scrambled to salvage faltering legislation.

"We don't know what the plan is," said Senator Bill Cassidy. "Clearly, the draft plan is dead. Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know."

Senator John McCain said it may now be time for Republicans to come up with a new proposal with support from Democrats.

"I think my view is it's probably going to be dead," McCain said of the GOP bill. If Democrats are included, he said, it doesn't mean "they control it.  It means they can have amendments considered. And even when they lose, then they're part of the process. That's what democracy is supposed to be all about."

Signalling his pessimism as well, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote on Twitter late on Saturday that Republicans will lose their Senate majority if they don't pass health care legislation. The Iowa Republican said the party should be "ashamed" that it hasn't been able to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The White House, anxious for a legislative victory on health care, insisted that it fully expects a GOP repeal and replace bill to pass in the coming weeks that will fulfil Trump's pledge to end Obamacare. Democrats have ruled out negotiating with Republicans unless they work to fix the law, not repeal it.

"Whether it'd be before August recess or during August recess, the president expects the Senate to fulfil the promises it made to the American people," said White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

GOP defections

At least 10 GOP senators have expressed opposition to the initial bill drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority and Democrats stand united against the bill, meaning that just three GOP defections will doom it. The week long July 4 recess only raised more doubts among senators as many heard from constituents angry about the GOP bill and the prospect of rising premiums.

McConnell last week said he would introduce a fresh bill in about a week scuttling and replacing much of former President Barack Obama's health care law. But McConnell also acknowledged that if the broader effort fails, he may turn to a smaller bill with quick help for insurers and consumers and negotiate with Democrats.

Cassidy, an uncommitted senator who encountered upset voters this month at a Baton Rouge town hall, rated the chances of Republicans passing broader legislation in the next three weeks at "50-50". He cited questions about the impact on coverage and cost in a revised conservative plan being circulated by Senator Ted Cruz. 

Cruz's plan, which aims to lower premiums for healthy people, has drawn support from the White House and some conservatives in the House, which would have to approve any modified bill passed by the Senate. But his proposal has limited appeal to Republican moderates such as Grassley, who described the plan as "subterfuge to get around pre-existing conditions".

Cruz on Sunday sought to dismiss Grassley's criticism as a "hoax" being pushed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, insisting that people will be able to get the coverage they need at an affordable price. Cruz cast his plan as a compromise to unify the party on a GOP health bill.

'Failure not an option'

"When it comes to repealing Obamacare, what I think is critical is that Republicans, we've got to honour the promise we made to the voters that millions of Americans are hurting under Obamacare," Cruz said.

"In my view failure is not an option," he said.

The growing scepticism among Senate Republicans spurred Trump earlier this month to suggest repealing the Obama-era law right away and then replacing it later, an approach that GOP leaders and the president himself considered but dismissed months ago as impractical and politically unwise.

Cassidy cautioned that if senators are unable to reach agreement by the end of July then a "repeal-only" bill would be a non-starter. Echoing McConnell, Cassidy said Republicans may have to pass legislation instead to stabilise the insurance markets.

"I do think we have to do something for market stabilisation, otherwise people who are paying premiums of $20 000, $30 000 and $40 000 will pay even that much more," he said.

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