Bid to repeal Obamacare facing tough Senate passage
After a months-long struggle, Republicans have succeeded in bringing Obamacare repeal legislation, a centrepiece of their 2016 election campaigns, to a debate on the US Senate floor. Now the hard part begins.
Republicans, deeply divided over the proper role of the government in helping low-income people receive healthcare, eked out a procedural win on Tuesday when the Senate voted 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, to allow debate to start on legislation.
The outcome came as a huge relief to President Donald Trump, who has called Obamacare a "disaster" and pushed fellow Republicans in recent days to follow through on the party's seven-year quest to roll back the law.
But hours later, Senate Republican leadership suffered a setback when the repeal-and-replace plan that they had been working on since May failed to get enough votes for approval, with nine out of 52 Republicans voting against it.
The Republican-led Senate yesterday continued a freewheeling debate that could stretch through the week on undoing major portions of former Democratic president Barack Obama's 2010 framework, which expanded health insurance to about 20 million people, many on low income.
More votes were expected, as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell exhorted senators to bring amendments to the floor. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged the Senate to scrap the entire exercise and move to bipartisan discussions on improving Obamacare.
"Ultimately we want to get legislation to finally end the failed Obamacare legislation through Congress and to the president's desk for his signature," Mr McConnell said, while noting the difficulties ahead.
Republican leaders have insisted they can devise a cheaper approach this week and with less government intrusion into consumers' healthcare decisions than Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats and other critics of the Republican effort said it would deprive millions of health coverage.
"We've tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on sceptical members, trying to convince them it's better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition," Republican Senator John McCain said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
"I don't think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn't," he added in dramatic remarks after returning from surgery and being diagnosed with brain cancer.
Mr McCain appealed to Mr McConnell to start over by having a Senate committee, in a bipartisan way, craft new healthcare legislation.
His proposal was ignored.
Healthcare industry organisations are also similarly troubled by the legislation as it stands and have urged a more bipartisan effort.
Mr Trump attacked opposing members from his own party, targeting Lisa Murkowski by name in an early morning tweet yesterday.