Analysis Politics

Nevertheless, He Persists: McConnell Seeks to Shame Wayward Senators With Repeal Vote

Jodi Jacobson

"Repeal and replace" may be dead, but the GOP's right wing is still pushing for a vote on "repeal and delay," at least in part to "punish" three women senators who have vowed to vote no.

Following the ups and downs of the GOP’s dogged efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), rob health insurance from tens of millions, and drastically cut investment in affordable health care could send you to the hospital with a severe case of vertigo.

The GOP has gone back and forth trying to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) repeatedly delayed votes on a bill, first because there was not enough agreement among the small group of senators tasked with writing a bill, and then not enough votes to push it through a deeply divided Republican caucus. For some the bill was too extreme, even by GOP standards. For others it was not extreme enough. And it was deeply unpopular, even in counties won by President Trump in 2016. As a result, “repeal and replace” died an ignominious death this week.

Nevertheless, McConnell persists. His current strategy, however, seems less focused on passing legislation than on shaming those Republican senators who refused to vote to repeal the ACA.

McConnell on Tuesday night announced a plan to take up the House bill and force a vote on what is known as “repeal and delay,” repealing Obamacare and delaying any replacement plan for at least two years. Extreme right-wing groups such as Freedom Works, led by the Koch brothers, turned up the heat, trying to pressure senators to vote for repeal and delay.

This approach, however, spells trouble for key Republicans because it eliminates both Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and the subsidies used to defray the costs of private insurance coverage for those who can’t afford it. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if the bill were passed, 18 million people would lose insurance coverage within a year, and 32 million fewer people would have coverage in 2026, compared with current law. Premiums would increase by at least 20 percent in the first year and double by 2026.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the few Republicans who had not voted to repeal Obamacare, immediately made clear she would not vote for this version. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) quickly voiced their opposition. Interviewed in a Capitol Hill elevator, Murkowski told reporters: “There’s enough chaos and uncertainty already, and this would just contribute to it.”

Capito voiced her opposition in a statement:

For months, I have expressed reservations about the direction of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. I have serious concerns about how we continue to provide affordable care to those who have benefited from West Virginia’s decision to expand Medicaid, especially in light of the growing opioid crisis. All of the Senate health care discussion drafts have failed to address these concerns adequately. My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians. With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.

Others, such as Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who opposes Obamacare, joined the three women senators, saying “I don’t think it’s appropriate just to repeal.” Others considered on the fence with repeal and delay are Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Dean Heller (R-NV).

McConnell’s strategy, however, is to push Collins, Capito, Murkowski, and Portman, along with those who are undecided, to vote for what is known as a “motion to proceed,” thereby freeing up the bill to be debated and amended. No matter the outcome of the procedural vote, the bill can remain indefinitely on the side of the table, so to speak, as long as debate does not begin. And political pressure can be used to threaten, however subtly, those who are not falling into line.

Some believe the bill is dead no matter what, thanks to the persistence of the three female senators. “No one believes a deal can be made at this point. The three ladies are waaaay smarter than that,” a senior aide told Axios.

McConnell remains under pressure from the Kochs and from the right wing of the party to “expose” the no votes. Appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball Tuesday night, Texas GOP Rep. Mike Burgess said McConnell should force a vote because “people need to see which senators are OK with keeping Obamacare and which senators wish to repeal Obamacare.”

Progressive groups are taking no chances. CREDO and other groups will keep pushing senators to vote against repeal and delay.

“Senate Republicans’ inability to pass legislation they’ve supposedly been working on for years is a testament to the power of grassroots activism,” CREDO Political Director Murshed Zaheed told Rewire Tuesday night. “But we don’t believe for a second that Senate Republicans have given up on their dream of taking away our health care to give tax breaks to the rich.”

“Repealing Obamacare outright as Republicans now hope to do would steal health care from tens of millions of Americans,” Zaheed added. “Activists must remain vigilant to ensure that Trumpcare or any other bill that would take away Americans’ health care does not move forward.”

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