Senate Republicans have admitted defeat on Obamacare repeal — again.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday afternoon that he will not bring the Graham-Cassidy bill — the latest GOP repeal bill, which had gained steam this month — to a vote this week.
With every Senate Democrat opposed to the bill, the publicly announced opposition of three Senate Republicans — Rand Paul (KY), John McCain (AZ), and Susan Collins (ME) — was enough to ensure it was headed for defeat.
So rather than force vulnerable senators to take another politically damaging vote certain to end in failure, McConnell has decided not to hold the vote at all.
“We don’t have the votes,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), a co-author of the bill, said at a press conference Tuesday. “And since we don’t have the votes, we will postpone that vote.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the other co-author, was publicly optimistic and asserted that his bill would pass eventually. “We’re coming back to this after taxes,” he said.
But the cancellation of this week’s vote has major implications. That’s because on Saturday, September 30, Congress’s current “budget reconciliation” instructions, which set up the special process that lets the Senate advance a bill with a simple majority rather than 60 votes, are set to expire.
Republicans believe the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process is their only shot at passing major, transformative legislation. And after this Saturday, they’ll have officially squandered their first opportunity to use it, and to deliver on their longtime campaign promise of repealing President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
As I wrote earlier today, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts entirely, because the party could conceivably set up the reconciliation process again later on in this Congress.
But for now, Republican leaders appear to be putting health care to the side. “Where we go from here is tax reform,” McConnell said.
The party’s very next step is that they will have to pass a budget resolution, to set up that special 51-vote reconciliation process again. There had been some discussion among Senate Republicans about writing that resolution so that health legislation could be done together with tax reform through reconciliation.
That appeared to be technically possible, but many Republicans feared that tying their unpopular health legislation to a major tax bill could just end up dooming both to defeat. And in the end, comments from McConnell and Graham today suggest that they have decided against doing so.
So long as Republicans control Congress, Obamacare repeal won’t ever truly be dead. They’ll have options to potentially revive it later on, should the political situation change in their favor. For now, though, it will be put aside.
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