Sen. John McCain joined with two of his GOP colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday, thwarting the party’s months-long effort to pass health legislation.
“I regret that our efforts were simply not enough, this time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote. “This is clearly a disappointing moment.”
“It’s time to move on,” he added after pulling the bill from the floor.
The decision by McCain to vote no came after weeks of brinkmanship and after his dramatic return from cancer treatment to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill earlier this week. The GOP’s "skinny" repeal bill was defeated 49-51, falling just short of the 50 votes needed to advance it. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski also voted against it.
Collins voted no first, then Murkowski, followed by McCain, who came to the well of the Senate and gave a thumbs down, dooming the repeal bill to loud gasps, mostly from the Democratic side of the aisle. Republican leaders stood together looking grim as their back-up repeal plan appeared to collapse.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the next steps would be for the Republicans. The repeal effort had appeared to collapse several times before, only to be revived. This time might be different.
McConnell has struggled to find a compromise that satisfies conservatives, who have demanded a wholesale repeal of Obamacare, and moderates, who have been unnerved by predictions the bill would significantly boost the ranks of uninsured Americans.
Democrats called for a bipartisan debate on how to fix Obamacare.
“We are not celebrating. We’re relieved,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “Let’s turn the page and work together to improve our health care system.” He also said Democrats would be willing to help expedite bipartisan legislation and to advance Trump administration nominations.
Earlier, several other Republican said they would only vote to advance the measure after getting assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan that his chamber would start a conference negotiation and not simply pass it.
McConnell released the long-awaited text of his so-called skinny repeal bill late Thursday. It would end the requirement that individuals buy health insurance, and suspend through 2026 the requirement that companies provide it for their workers.
It would also extend a moratorium on the tax on medical-device makers through 2020 and increases the amount that individuals can contribute to health-savings accounts. The measure would also defund Planned Parenthood for one year.
The Congressional Budget Office said late Thursday that the bill would result in an additional 15 million Americans without health insurance next year. It also said the measure would reduce the federal deficit by $178.8 billion over a decade.
The defeat of the “skinny” repeal bill came after several other measure put forward by GOP leaders were also blocked.
The Senate rejected a fuller repeal of Obamacare 45-55 Wednesday. Seven Republicans voted against it, including Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and McCain. Late Tuesday, a 43-57 Senate vote swept aside a revised version of McConnell’s Obamacare replacement, a measure negotiated in secret during weeks of tense GOP talks.
Republicans had said late Thursday their plan was to get the “skinny” bill through the Senate and then negotiate with the House on a broader agreement to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“Passing this legislation will allow us to work with our colleagues in the House toward a final bill that can go to the president, repeal Obamacare, and undo its damage,” McConnell said Thursday night on the Senate floor. “I urge everyone to support it.”
Senate Democrats immediately blasted the new measure and called for bipartisan talks on fixing Obamacare.
“This bill is lighting the American health system on fire with intentionality,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said after the text was released.