The GOP Failure to Get It Done: Skinny Repeal Thin on Votes
While most Americans slept, the GOP was living its own nightmare. The party’s seven-year push to rescue the country from the clutches of Obamacare came crumbling down at the last moment, sending Republicans to a shocking defeat that seemed unlikely just hours before. For Republicans, the best hope was a pared-down measure called the ‘skinny repeal’ that would have bought Congress more time to strike a deal in conference. But, in a dramatic moment no one saw coming, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who made a triumphant return to Washington earlier in the week, cast the deciding vote. Drawing audible gasps, the Arizona senator left his mark on a debate that could be the Republicans’ costliest one.
The time of death was 1:30 a.m., and the months of grueling debate finally showed on an emotional Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “This is clearly a disappointing moment,” he said somberly. “We worked really hard to try to develop a consensus for a better way forward. Yes, this is a disappointment. A disappointment indeed. I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time. Now, I imagine many of our colleagues on the other side are celebrating. Probably pretty happy about all this. But the American people are hurting, and they need relief.”
For Republicans, it had been a punishing 10 weeks, as one replacement plan after another fell just short of the consensus leaders needed to deliver on the repeated promise they made to voters. Despite personal pleas from Vice President Mike Pence, leaders, and even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), McCain insisted that “Skinny repeal fell short because it fell short of our promise to repeal and & replace Obamacare w/ meaningful reform.” Hailed as a hero by Democrats, it was clear later that he’d been working with them from the beginning. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told a stunned press corps that he’d been talking to McCain “four or five times a day.”
For now, though, it’s the Majority Leader who’s taking most of the heat for the bills’ collapse. As an organization that’s worked with McConnell since the start of this process, we can testify that he worked harder than anyone to find common ground — but refusing to compromise an inch on the pro-life language in the process. That was even clearer as the night wore on. In a last-ditch effort to stop taxpayer-funded abortion in the GOP’s premium tax credits, new Senator Luther Strange (R-Alabama) lost a razor-thin vote on his amendment, 50-50. In a debate marked by several amendments, Strange’s pro-life language proved to be one of the most popular. Although abortion allies Collins and Murkowski killed the measure, it did show just how critically important the issue continues to be. If it weren’t for the Planned Parenthood defund and other pro-life protections, the effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it did in the House or Senate.
Although things look decidedly bleaker than before, not every Republican is accepting defeat. Earlier this week, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) insisted that if the bills failed, the GOP would “go back to the drawing board” and try again. “We are going to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.” According to Congressman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), “when” may be now. Already this morning, Meadows — the chairman of the influential House Freedom Caucus — said new talks are underway to salvage a win on Obamacare.
“We continue to work on two different plans with our Senate colleagues,” the North Carolina leader told the Washington Examiner. “We will continue to do that over the next couple of weeks on a plan that can get to 51” votes in the Senate. Meadows, who was one of the main reasons the House improved — and then passed — its bill, knows conservatives aren’t done. “I believe we deliver, still, on healthcare,” Meadows said. To suggest that everything is over is not understanding the dynamics going on right now in the Senate. It’s not over.” Like us, he knows Republicans can’t accept defeat. As Politico’s Dan Diamond pointed out, “Obamacare survived by one vote in the Senate in 2010; [it] survived by one vote in SCOTUS in 2012; [and it] survived by one vote in the Senate in 2017.” It will take persistence, but this isn’t an insurmountable task. “Obamacare is collapsing and hurting American families,” Speaker Ryan urged. “We have to keep working at this until we get the job done.”
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