Congressional Republicans are facing the prospect of failing this week — perhaps for a final time — in their bid to repeal ObamaCare.
Senate Republicans have yet to throw in the towel, but it seems more than likely their nine-month odyssey will be unsuccessful, with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposed to the measure and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) leaning strongly against it.
Republicans can lose just two votes and still muscle the bill through the Senate in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition.
They also face a Sept. 30 deadline. After this week, they will lose the ability to use special budgetary rules on ObamaCare repeal that prevent a Democratic filibuster.
GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.), aiming to keep their bill alive, made last-minute changes to the legislation over the weekend, including directing more funding toward states of holdout senators.
Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she had “a number of serious reservations” about Cassidy and Graham’s bill, which would end ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid and repeal much of the law, replacing it with block grant funding for states.
Her comments did nothing to assuage GOP fears that there is little chance of winning her vote.
Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that as the bill now stood, he would be a no vote, as would fellow conservative Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Cruz said the duo wants changes made that they believe would lower premium costs.
While some believed Cruz and Lee can be won over, it’s harder to see Republicans convincing Paul, Collins and McCain to reverse course. And a fourth GOP senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against the “skinny” repeal bill earlier this summer and may also be a no vote.
It’s a surprise position for the GOP, which had high hopes about repealing ObamaCare after President Trump won the White House, leaving Republicans in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nearly a year later, the consensus among Republican lawmakers, aides and strategists is that the job of dismantling ObamaCare turned out to be a lot tougher than they ever expected.
“I think they confused sloganeering with planning and they fell more in love with the slogan than actual governing,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist.
“We never repealed an entitlement program in this country. Why they thought this would be something simple, easy or even appropriate is beyond me,” he added.
Paul and Collins both expressed irritations over the GOP’s effort in their separate Sunday show appearances.
“When we’re dealing with a sixth of our economy and millions of people, you can’t do sound health insurance policy this way,” Collins said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“You need to have extensive hearings. The Democrats must come to the table,” said Collins, echoing complaints McCain made when he issued a statement on Friday afternoon opposing the bill.
Republicans face a difficult balancing act in trying to win over McCain, Murkowski and Collins as they also face complaints from the right.
Paul warned Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that if Republicans vote for a replacement plan that keeps core elements of ObamaCare in place, “the Republican name will be on health care and this isn’t going to work.”
“You’re going to end up having Republicans absorb the blame for a terrible health-care system,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has come under enormous pressure to make progress on ObamaCare repeal from Trump, who was furious when McCain voted no on a slimmed-down version of repeal in July.
Trump and McConnell also have plenty of stake this week in Alabama, where Sen. Luther Strange (R) is facing a tough primary challenge from conservative Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice. Moore has been ahead in polls despite Trump and McConnell’s backing of Strange. Voters go to the polls for the primary runoff on Tuesday.
A Strange defeat coupled with another loss on ObamaCare threatens to sink the Trump-McConnell relationship to a new low — which just adds to the pressure of the week.
As Republicans near what might be a decisive defeat on health care, some in the GOP argue their party made a mistake in tackling the decisive issue as the first order of business instead of tax cuts, which is more of a GOP specialty and more popular politically.
“We should have started with taxes,” said one Senate GOP aide. “It’s not easy for Republicans to coalesce around health care. We know how to cut taxes.”
No matter what happens this week on health care, tax reform is the next item on the Trump-GOP agenda.
But the effort will go forward on a whimper if the party suffers yet another disappointment on health care this week.