By Agence France-Presse
US Republicans eager to repeal “Obamacare” suffered a deeply embarrassing setback Tuesday when shrinking support forced them to postpone votes on their controversial health care overhaul, one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities.
With the Senate bill delayed by a few weeks and maybe more, the timeline of the effort — and the overall viability of a years-long bid to dismantle Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) in favor of a Republican replacement — was thrown into question.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged he did not have the votes, after a non-partisan forecast projected the bill would swell the ranks of the uninsured by 22 million by 2026, as compared to current law.
McConnell said party members would “continue the discussions” in a bid to overcome internal divisions.
“Consequently, we will not be on the bill this week, but we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.”
The ideological differences between conservatives and moderates were so stark that it was clear leadership did not even have the 50 votes in the 100-member chamber needed to simply begin debate on the bill.
But McConnell insisted the measure was far from dead. After the announcement, Republican senators trooped down to the White House for a special meeting with Trump, who made it clear that the pressure was on.
‘We need to talk’
“We’re getting very close. But for the country, we have to have health care, and it can’t be Obamacare which is melting down,” Trump said, as dozens of lawmakers sat grim-faced around a White House conference table.
“We need to talk, we need to see what we can do,” the president added.
The gathering is reminiscent of the health care effort in the House, when Trump hosted Republican congressmen after Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to pull the first version of the House bill — presumably to apply pressure.
A tweaked version then passed the House, with a handful of Republicans opposing it. Trump turned around and branded the House bill “mean,” and wanted a Senate bill with more “heart.”
The Senate delay is a huge blow to Trump and Republican lawmakers who have spent the last seven years plotting an end to the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare.
It also highlights the deep ideological divides within the party over how to improve the health care system while not cutting millions of Americans out of insurance coverage.
“It’s difficult to see how tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental concerns about the bill,” Senator Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, told reporters.
The Senate draft would save some $321 billion in federal spending over the 2017-2016 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
But it would balloon out-of-pocket medical expenses for the working poor and those age 50 to 64.
The bill provides billions in tax cuts to insurance companies and the wealthy, while allowing states to drop several currently mandated benefits, such as maternity care and hospital services.
It would abolish the requirement for most Americans to have health insurance.
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