Senate Leaders Delay Health Care Vote Because It Lacks GOP Support

Senate Leaders Delay Health Care Vote Because It Lacks GOP Support
Erin Kelly and Eliza Collins , USA TODAY June 27, 2017

WASHINGTON— Senate Republican leadersaredelaying a vote on legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, giving up their goal of passing the bill before Congress adjourns for the July Fourth recess, senators said Tuesday.

It had become clear since the bill was released last Thursday that MajorityLeader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not have enough votes among his own GOP membersto advance the bill to the floor this week.Conservatives complained that the bill does not go far enough to repeal Obamacare, while moderates feared it would hurt their constituents by throwing too many people off Medicaid.

Senators are expected to continuenegotiating and try to reach consensus on a bill they can bring up soon after the recess. Many senators had complained that the vote was being rushed this week, giving them little time to study the proposal or improve the legislation.

"I'm hopeful," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., after leaders decided to delay the vote. "I think this gives us ... breathing room."

Senate leaders decided to delay the vote after it became clear that they couldn't even clear a procedural hurdle to bring the bill up for consideration. FourRepublican senators— Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Rand Paul of Kentucky— said they would vote against a motion to bring the bill to the Senate floor unless significant changes were made. McConnell could only afford to lose two Republicans to win the procedural vote.

Leaders now have more time tomake changes in the bill to make it more attractive to critics. For example, they could add more money to fight opioid addiction, which is a nationwide problem but has hit states such as Ohio and West Virginia especially hard. The current bill provides just $2 billion to battle the opioid crisis. Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia had wanted $45 billion.

The projected reduction in the deficit provided by the bill gives McConnell about $200 billion to put toward opioids, Medicaid or funding for rural hospitals— all things that could help win over some senators.

But it gets tricky because changes that might appeal to moderates like Collins or Heller could further alienate conservatives like Paul. Generally, conservatives want a nearly complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which they see as the only way to reduce insurance premiums. Moderates fear the bill strips too many struggling Americans of medical coverage under Medicaid and will drive away health care providers who serve rural areas.