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Republicans Scrap Health Care Vote — Again; Trump Blasts 'So-Called Republicans'

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is in the hot seat, as Senate Republicans appear to be on the precipice of yet another health care failure.
Alex Wong
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is in the hot seat, as Senate Republicans appear to be on the precipice of yet another health care failure.

Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET

Republicans are once again waving the white flag on health care.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he is pulling the Republican health care bill because it does not have the votes.

Rather than endure another embarrassing vote that sees his caucus come up short, the senators agreed in a closed-door meeting to shelve the bill.

It's another chapter in months of GOP failure to unite on a replacement of the current health care law, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — despite a years-long galvanizing conservative push to do so.

With Republicans' latest health care failure, there is a question of what it could mean for McConnell. He and President Trump have not been on the same page and do not appear to have a warm relationship. Trump has criticized him on Twitter for previously being unable to pass health care, and there were reports of an intense, profanity-laced telephone call between the two.

Could this embarrassment for the GOP and president be the impetus for Trump to turn up the pressure even more on McConnell and try to seek a replacement?

"[A]t some point," Trump said at the White House before the announcement, "there will be a repeal and replace. ... But we are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans."

Three Republicans came out against the bill — Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Republicans could lose only two senators for the bill to pass through the budget process of reconciliation, which allows for a majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold ordinarily needed to end a filibuster.

The legislation suffered a fatal blow Monday night when Collins declared her opposition. Collins lambasted the bill in a statement, citing her problems with the bill as three-fold: "sweeping changes and cuts" to Medicaid, weakening "protections for people with pre-existing conditions," and that it "would lead to higher premiums and reduced coverage for tens of millions of Americans."

The GOP bill would have fundamentally overhauled Medicaid from an open-ended federal guarantee to a system that caps funds to the states but would have given them more flexibility in how they spent those dollars.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he and House Republicans were "a little frustrated the Senate has not acted on a seminal promise."

Ryan noted that his conference had done its job, passing legislation in May.

Instead, congressional leaders and the president are ready to move on to overhauling the tax code.

They are set to unveil a "framework" for their legislation Wednesday, and McConnell said the Senate Budget Committee will mark up its resolution on taxes next week.

Trump said Tuesday he had asked members of Congress from both parties to "discuss our framework for tax cuts and tax reform before it will be released tomorrow. We will be releasing a very comprehensive, very detailed report tomorrow. And it will be a very, very powerful document."

Trump said the plan will be based on four principles:

1. "Make our tax code simple and fair." (He promised Americans would be able to file their taxes on a "single page.")

2. "Cut taxes tremendously for the middle class, not just a little bit but tremendously." (Double the standard deduction and increase the child tax credit.)

3. Lower business taxes.

4. "Bring back trillions of dollars in wealth parked overseas."

A comprehensive tax overhaul has not happened since 1986.

"Tomorrow is the beginning of a very important process that we are excited about here in Congress," Ryan said.

As for health care, McConnell tried to paint the debate as one of the Graham-Cassidy bill versus a single-payer system. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the bill's principal authors, had framed it as "federalism versus socialism." Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as some Democrats, have touted a "Medicare for all" plan.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York took to the Senate floor Tuesday to knock McConnell's argument as a "straw man" and a "false choice."

"Democrats have a lot of ideas about how to improve health care," Schumer said. "Each of them endeavors to increase coverage, improve the quality of care, and lower the cost of care. None — none of the Republican plans manage to achieve those goals. That's the difference. The difference is one side wants to cut health care to average Americans, increase premiums, give the insurance companies far more freedom, and one side wants to increase care, the number of people covered, lower premiums, better coverage. That's the divide."

Schumer also accused Republicans of not wanting to have that debate on the merits and called for a "bipartisan way to improve the existing system."

Later, after the announcement of the bill's demise, Schumer called for a bipartisan approach. Standing next to Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, Schumer promoted the work of Murray and Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, to try to fix the current system.

"I saw Sen. Alexander in the gym this morning," Schumer said, "and he seemed open to it [working on a bipartisan deal]."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.