Three Republicans senators,John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, held a press conference Thursday saying they cannot vote for the GOP health care bill in its current form. (July 27)
Capping his dramatic return to Capitol Hill while fighting brain cancer, Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote to sink his fellow Republicans’ so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.
McCain, R-Ariz., joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and every Senate Democrat to bring down the bill on a 49-51 vote.
McCain had returned to the Senate on Tuesday for the health-care debate while recovering from July 14 surgery to remove a blood clot. He had just disclosed that clot was associated with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and he is expected to return to Arizona soon for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
McCain drew cheers from supporters of the Affordable Care Act earlier in the week with a floor speech in which he urged a return to Senate bipartisanship and compromise, but jeers from many of the same people when he subsequently voted to proceed to debate on the legislation, which critics on the left called “Trumpcare” after President Donald Trump.
The late-night failure of the skinny-repeal option, which would have ended the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer insurance mandates and medical device tax for three years and made other limited changes, effectively ended the current GOP push to undo what Republicans call “Obamacare.”
“From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people,” McCain said in a written statement issued after the vote, which happened early Friday Eastern time.
“The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.”
The Republic’s political team on July 26, 2017, talks about Sen. John McCain’s dramatic health-bill appearance, the ALEC conference and the saga of Mesa Councilman Ryan Winkle.
The late-night drama of the vote drew immediate attention from the White House. Shortly before 3 a.m., President Trump tweeted “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!”
A dramatic Obamacare debate
McCain campaigned for re-election last year on a promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but has been a consistent critic of the process in which the original version of the Senate GOP bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was drafted behind closed doors.
Earlier this month, McCain predicted that the GOP bill would fail and urged his fellow Republicans to reach out to Senate Democrats to try to come to terms on a sustainable health-care solution.
After the vote, McCain said he was concerned that if the Senate passed the “skinny repeal” that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would pass it rather than agreeing to a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between the versions passed by both chambers.
“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of ‘Obamacare’ was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote,” McCain said. “We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace.
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” he continued. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is up for re-election next year, voted “yes” on the skinny-repeal bill.
Dr. Joseph Zabramski, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, talks about Sen. John McCain’s cancer. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com
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A cancer expert says Sen. John McCain has an “aggressive” form of brain cancer that will be difficult to treat. Dr. David Reardon at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says glioblastoma is the most common type of brain cancer in adults. (July 20)
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Sen. Lindsey Graham says Sen. John McCain is “ready to come back,” despite being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. (July 20)
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Doctors diagnosed Senator John McCain with a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor that can be difficult to treat.
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Sen. John McCain revealed that he has a primary brain tumor, with doctors describing the tumor as a glioblastoma.
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Republic reporters explain what glioblastoma is and what it means for Sen. John McCain.
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Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer according to a statement from his office.
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Barrow neurosurgeon talks about McCain’s cancer
Doctor: McCain has ‘aggressive’ cancer
Sen. Graham on McCain: ‘He’s coming back’
Breaking down John McCain’s glioblastoma diagnosis
Sen. John McCain has brain tumor
What is glioblastoma? Unpacking Sen. McCain’s cancer diagnosis
Sen. John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer
The vote was a major blow to GOP Senate leaders. House and Senate Republicans campaigned on a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but they have struggled to reach consensus on how to do that.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said at about 2 a.m. that it was “time to move on” rather than trying again to pass a GOP bill. He said he wants to hear ideas from Democrats about what to do next on health care.
“What we tried to accomplish for the American people was the right thing for the country,” McConnell, who was clearly shaken, said after the vote. “And our only regret is that we didn’t achieve what we had hoped to accomplish. I think the American people are going to regret that we couldn’t find a better way forward.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats are eager to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare.
“We are not celebrating,” Schumer said. “We are relieved … not for ourselves, but for the American people.”
Schumer’s voice broke as he praised McCain for his courage in casting the deciding vote.
Millions would have lost coverage
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the defeated bill, dubbed the Health Care Freedom Act, would have resulted in 16 million fewer Americans with medical coverage by 2026. It also would have increased premiums by about 20% for people buying their insurance in the individual marketplace every year between 2018 and 2026.
McConnell said the bill would have ended the mandates that individuals buy health insurance and that larger employers offer affordable coverage to their workers. He said it also would have provided more flexibility to states in providing medical care to low-income Americans and repealed the medical device tax for three years while increasing the amount of money that people can contribute to Health Savings Accounts.
It was not immediately clear whether the bill could win over both moderates and conservatives within McConnell’s party.
The provision to defund Planned Parenthood drew opposition from Collins and Murkowski. The bill also contained Obamacare subsidies, its expansion of Mediciaid and most of the law’s taxes.
“The American people have suffered under Obamacare for too long,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday night. “It’s time to end the failed status quo. It’s time to send legislation to the president that will finally move our country beyond the failures of Obamacare. Passing this legislation will allow us to work with our colleagues in the House toward a final bill that can go to the president, repeal Obamacare, and undo its damage.”
The American Medical Association had denounced the bill.
“The so-called ‘skinny’ bill is a toxic prescription that would make matters worse,” said AMA President David Barbe. “Eliminating the individual mandate will lead to adverse selection, triggering higher premiums and further destabilizing the individual market. The stated goal was to advance policies to lower premiums, but the ‘skinny’ bill would do the exact opposite, harming patients across the country.”
McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., announced earlier in the evening that they would not support a “skinny repeal” bill unless they had a guarantee the House will actually start negotiations and not simply pass the Senate bill and send it to President Trump.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., tried to provide that assurance by saying the House would be “willing” to go to conference if that was what was required to move a bill forward. That won over Graham and Johnson, but McCain said it didn’t go far enough in assuring him that the House wouldn’t vote on the skinny repeal at some point.
Graham told reporters that passing a scaled-down version of a bill that would repeal Obamacare “politically would be the dumbest thing in history.”
Eliza Collins and Erin Kelly of USA TODAY contributed to this story.
Nowicki is The Arizona Republic’s national political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @dannowicki.
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