WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders abruptly decided to delay a vote on their plan to begin voting on a sweeping and controversial overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the decision in the weekly Republican caucus lunch meeting. White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Vice President Mike Pence also attended the meeting.
“We will not be on the bill this week,” McConnell said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. He said his members needed more time to “litigate” changes and get “comfortable” with the bill. “Legislation of this complexity always takes longer than anyone would hope,” he said.
The announcement came mere hours after key members of the Senate GOP had indicated that they would plow ahead on the vote this week. The vote is now tabled until after the chamber’s July 4 recess, as McConnell attempts to hash out another deal that can get at least 50 GOP votes.
Many members of the Republican caucus headed over to the White House at President Trump’s invitation to talk health care shortly after the announcement. “If we don’t get it done, it is just going to be something we aren’t going to like and that’s ok,” Trump said during a portion of the meeting open to the media. He told senators he believed they were “very close” to a deal.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters earlier in the day that the first vote would happen sometime Wednesday. The first vote is a procedural one, in which at least 50 senators must allow debate to proceed on the bill.
McConnell had also repeatedly vowed to push through the bill before the end of the week. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., another member of Senate leadership, told reporters that the odds of passing the legislation would not get better with time.
But they couldn’t get the votes.
Earlier, both moderate and conservative Republicans said they would not allow debate to go forward until significant changes were made to the bill. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, all have said they would not vote to let the bill proceed as it’s written right now. Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., indicated they could also vote no on starting debate. Heller, Collins and other moderates have said the bill’s cuts to Medicaid are too severe, while Paul, Lee, Johnson and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., said the bill must move to the right and repeal more of Obamacare to get their support.
After the vote was postponed, three more senators — Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Ks., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.— came out against the bill, showing how far McConnell has to go to get to a deal.
Earlier Tuesday, the White House and Republican leadership appeared to be focusing on wooing the conservative senators instead of moderates. Paul met with President Trump at the White House, and several conservative senators, including Lee, are dining with Pence tonight, Politico reported. Meanwhile, Capito told reporters she hadn’t “heard of any changes” from the leadership, and Collins said she also hadn’t heard from Senate leadership about gaining her support. Moderates were not being showered with the same amount of attention as conservatives.
If the bill moves significantly to the right — by loosening up requirements for what insurance plans must cover, for example — McConnell risks losing moderates further. Those lawmakers were likely already wary after the Congressional Budget Office’s Monday prediction that the bill would cause 22 million fewer Americans to have health insurance in 10 years.
But McConnell does nearly have $200 billion in extra deficit savings in his bill compared with the House legislation — which means he could dole out money for opioid treatment and other concerns moderates have been raising.
Democrats say they are not letting their guard down just because of the delay. “We know the fight is not over, that is for sure,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said. House Republicans also pulled their bill last-minute and then later were able to broker a deal that won over conservatives and squeaked the bill through.
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