Republican Sens. John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins voted against the ‘skinny’ Obamacare repeal bill, killing the GOP’s seven-year quest to unravel the Affordable Care Act early Friday morning.
The vote was stalled for more than an hour and all eyes were on McCain, who spoke to Vice President Mike Pence on the floor before he tipped the vote 51-49 in a spectacular defeat for the Republicans.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed the Senate, and said: ‘This is certainly a disappointing moment….I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time.’
He concluded: ‘It’s time to move on.’
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer then took the floor and called for a bipartisan effort to make improvements.
He said: ‘We are not celebrating, we are relieved… Obamacare was hardly perfect. It did a lot of good things, but it needs improvement.’
Earlier Thursday evening, McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana announced they would oppose the bill unless they had a guarantee from Speaker Paul Ryan it would not pass through the House in its current state.
The senators were fearful the current bill, which would repeal individual mandates and leave 16million more Americans uninsured by 2026, would become law.
Instead, they hoped it would serve as a path for a House-Senate conference committee to try to work out another comprehensive healthcare legislation.
After Ryan spoke to the opposing senators on a conference call, McCain appeared to be the last holdout among the four as he spoke to Pence for more than 20 minutes on the Senate floor while the vote was stalled.
During a press conference on Thursday night, Graham slammed the bill and said: ‘The skinny bill as policy is disaster. As a replacement for Obamacare, it is a fraud.’
He added: ‘I need assurances from the speaker of the House and his team that if I vote for the skinny bill, then it will not be the final product. I’m not going to vote for a pig in a poke.’
Ryan tried to assuage their concerns, saying: ‘If moving forward requires a conference committee, that’s something the House is willing to do.’
While McCain initially branded Ryan’s response ‘insufficient’, the House speaker managed to convince both Graham and Johnson on a conference call to vote in favor of the bill, dubbed the Health Care Freedom Act.
McCain held out on declaring how he would vote, and all eyes were on the 80-year-old as he applauded Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said: ‘Let’s start over. We can do better…It is not too late to turn back from this proposal’.
The convoluted developments played out as a divided Senate debated legislation to repeal and replace Democrat Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
With Democrats unanimously opposed, the slender GOP majority was divided among itself.
After both a comprehensive bill and a repeal-only option failed on the Senate floor earlier this week, McConnell and his top lieutenants turned toward a lowest-common-denominator solution known as ‘skinny repeal.’
The bill would repeal a few of the most unpopular pieces of the 2010 law known as Obamacare with the goal of getting something – anything – out of the Senate.
On Thursday night, the Congressional Budget Office said 15 million fewer Americans would be uninsured in 2018, with premiums 20percent higher by next year compared to the current law.
The number of uninsured Americans is expected to rise to 16 million by 2026. The bill would also decrease the deficit by $178.8 billion over the next ten years.
Any Senate legislation would be enough to kick the issue to a special negotiating committee with the House, which passed its own version in May.
If that panel can agree on a new bill, the full House and Senate would again have to approve the legislation – a process that could last for months.
‘I think people would look at it not necessarily based on its content, but as a forcing mechanism to cause the two sides of the building to try to solve it together,’ Republican Senator Bob Corker said. ‘That´s going to be the last chance.’