Obamacare repeal plan in disarray as Republican senators withdraw

Collapse raises doubts about prospects of Congress reforming healthcare this session

US president Donald Trump  with vice-president Mike Pence during a “Made in America” showcase at the White House. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

US president Donald Trump with vice-president Mike Pence during a “Made in America” showcase at the White House. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

 

The Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is in disarray after a last-ditch effort by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to agree a “repeal-only” plan ended without agreement.

Mr McConnell was forced to try to persuade senators to repeal Mr Obama’s healthcare law but delay a decision on its replacement after two senators withdrew their support for his latest draft Bill on Monday night.

But at least three Republican senators rejected the “Plan B” by lunchtime on Tuesday, raising serious doubts about the prospect of the Republican-controlled Congress passing healthcare reform this session.

Following a lunchtime meeting with senators, Mr McConnell said he expected that a vote on a “repeal-only” Bill introduced in 2015 would be held “in the near future”.

“We do not simply have 50 senators who can agree on what ought to replace the existing law,” he said.

It was unclear when a vote on the repeal-only Bill would be held.

At least three senators – Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – said they opposed a vote on an immediate repeal of the law.

Failure

The collapse of the Bill marks a failure for both the Republican leadership in Congress and President Donald Trump, who promised repeatedly to repeal and replace Obamacare during his presidential campaign.

The president, who hit out at some Republicans as well as Democrats on Twitter for not supporting the deal, also suggested his party should let Obamacare “fail” and then rewrite a new plan. “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!,” he tweeted. He repeated the suggestion later to reporters.

“I’m not going to own it,” Mr Trump said of Obamacare. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer strongly criticised the president’s suggestion, accusing Mr Trump of trying to “sabotage the system and hurt millions of Americans”.

“He is actively trying to undermine the healthcare system of this country using millions of Americans as political pawns in a cynical game,” the Senate’s top-ranking Democrat said, adding: “The president is playing a dangerous game with the healthcare of this country.”

The latest trouble to beset Republicans’ promise to repeal and replace president Obama’s Affordable Care Act erupted late on Monday when two senators – Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas – unexpectedly withdrew their support for Mr McConnell’s latest draft.

The senate’s top Republican had already been forced to delay a debate on the Bill due to senator John McCain’s absence due to unexpected surgery.

But the withdrawal of support by senators Lee and Moran, together with the previously-announced opposition of senators Rand Paul and Susan Maine, left a vote unfeasible.

With Republicans holding 52 seats in the 100-seat Senate the party can afford to lose the support of only two party members, with vice-president Mike Pence holding a deciding vote.

The collapse of healthcare reform comes as Mr Trump approaches his six-month mark in office. It also coincided with confirmation by the Trump administration that it will continue to implement the Iran deal, despite the president repeatedly vowing during the election campaign to overturn the landmark nuclear agreement signed by president Obama.

As part of its regular review of Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, the Trump administration confirmed late on Monday Iran’s compliance, though officials warned that they would not continue to do so indefinitely.