WASHINGTON ― Republicans failed again this week to find the votes to pass an Obamacare repeal bill, and now they’re facing an uncomfortable prospect: going home for a monthlong recess in August without a single major legislative accomplishment under their belts.
After three GOP senators refused to support the latest bill aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act ― just enough senators to tank the entire effort ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that he’s throwing in the towel and abandoning the effort, for now.
It’s a stunning failure by Republicans who have been promising for the last seven years to repeal the health care law. It also means GOP lawmakers could face a conservative backlash that threatens their party’s prospects in the 2018 midterm elections.
McConnell brushed off a question about how he’ll explain to voters why Republicans wasted the last seven months on a failed health care push and have nothing else to show for that period of time.
“Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice,” he said, boasting that Republicans also repealed some Obama-era regulations this year. He said there’s still a year and a half left in this Congress, which gives Republicans time to work on other priority issues.
“We’ll be moving onto tax reform, infrastructure, there’s much work left to be done for the American people,” McConnell offered.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Republicans have failed to deliver on their No. 1 campaign issue. GOP leaders talked big in January about repealing Obamacare immediately. Their timeline slid, however, as Republicans in the House and Senate disagreed on how rapidly to move and how much to undo a law that many Americans ― including influential Republican governors whose states expanded Medicaid ― have come to rely on.
The House passed a Obamacare repeal bill in May that, if enacted into law, would leave 23 million more people uninsured, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate. Even some Republicans who voted for the legislation thought it stunk, but had hopes that it could be a starting point for the Senate to take up and build on.
Since that’s not happening, Republicans who voted for that bill are worried they may have walked that plank for nothing and could become the targets of Democratic attacks next year.
“From the right or the left, whether you’re a moderate or a strong conservative, there would be concerns on that front, because it’s a good 30- or 60-second ad if there’s not something to point to,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said Tuesday.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said the collapse of the Senate health care bill makes the next few weeks critical.
“If we don’t make Obamacare repeal done, it makes it a lot more difficult to go home and say, ‘Look what we’ve accomplished,’” he said ― though he predicted that Republicans would eventually be successful.
Other Republicans who voted for the House health care bill, however, dismissed the notion that they ought to be concerned about their political futures.
“I don’t think of the bill in those terms whatsoever,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who authored the amendment that ultimately helped pass the House bill. “To look at a health care bill that affects millions of lives, to look at it through the lens of does it hurt or help me, that to me is really inappropriate and cynical.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a vulnerable California Republican whose district Democrat Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election, similarly dismissed the question.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I mean, [Obamacare] is already hurting my state.”
Beyond Capitol Hill, some conservative pundits fumed as Obamacare repeal appeared to be unraveling. Radio show host Hugh Hewitt, for one, ranted on Twitter about the handful of Republicans who stood in the way of getting it done.
Hewitt said everyone knows “the list to blame” for failing to repeal the law, and named senators who at some stage opposed the bill on the table: Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). He even called for removing one of them from office, even if that means a Democrat ultimately wins the Senate seat in 2018.
Some senators are just as peeved as Hewitt, including one senator Hewitt complained about. Paul, who’s been calling for completely doing away with Obamacare, with or without a replacement, grumbled about his moderate colleagues who stood in the way of fully repealing the law.
“They’re going to have to go home and explain why they used to be for it and now they’re no longer for it. That’s a big change in people’s opinion,” he said.
“There’s some variation of repeal, certainly, that must pass,” Paul added, “or these people really don’t believe anything they said.”