WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's sudden move to try to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan appeared doomed Tuesday as at least three moderate Republicans rejected the idea.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they will not support a motion to proceed to the bill, which would repeal Obamacare in two years. Without their support, McConnell cannot get the 50 votes he needs to pass a repeal bill.
McConnell proposed the idea late Monday when it became clear that he did not have enough GOP votes to pass the latest Senate version of a replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act. Now that he also lacks the votes for repeal, it is not immediately clear what McConnell will do next.
"As I have said before, I did not come to Washington to hurt people," Capito said Tuesday in a statement. She said she could not support any bill that would hurt West Virginians who depend on Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid to provide basic medical coverage or help pay for treatment for opioid addiction.
"I do not think that it’s constructive to repeal a law that is so interwoven within our health care system without having a replacement plan in place," Collins said Tuesday. "We can’t just hope that we will pass a replacement within the next two years. Repealing without a replacement would create great uncertainty for individuals who rely on the ACA and cause further turmoil in the insurance markets."
She said she is urging the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to hold hearings on the best way to "fix the many flaws" in Obamacare. Murkowski also said senators need to go "back to the committee room."
"If it is a bill that simply repeals (Obamacare), I believe that will add to more uncertainty and the potential for Ohioans to pay even higher premiums, higher deductibles," Portman told MSNBC on Tuesday. "I’ll take a look at it, but I’m concerned about something that would simply repeal, and its impact on cost and choices."
President Trump said Tuesday, "I think we're probably in that position where we'll let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it."
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday said he still favors a health care bill that replaces Obamacare and doesn't just repeal it as Senate leaders are now seeking to do.
"We think (simultaneous repeal and replace) is still the best way to go," the Wisconsin Republican told reporters at a weekly news conference of GOP House leaders.
However, Ryan urged the Senate to pass whatever it can so that House and Senate negotiators can proceed to a conference committee to craft a final compromise bill.
"We'd like to see the Senate move on something," Ryan said. "Frankly, we just have to see what they can do."
The House narrowly passed legislation in May to repeal and replace key portions of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The House bill would eliminate tax penalties for people who don't buy health insurance and would roll back state expansions of Medicaid, which provided medical coverage for millions of low-income Americans.
Senators vowed to craft their own bill rather than trying to pass the House version, which senators from Medicaid-expansion states viewed as too harsh. However, McConnell was unable to convince both moderates and conservatives in his party to agree on an alternative plan. Republicans hold a slim majority of 52 seats in the 100-member Senate.
"I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. "That doesn't mean we should give up. We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare. I think we owe them at least that much."
He said the Senate "in the coming days" will vote on a repeal of Obamacare that would take place at the end of two years to provide time for lawmakers "to work toward patient-centered health care."
McConnell also criticized Democrats for refusing to work with Republicans on their bill, even though the legislation was effectively killed by members of his own party. Democrats have been united in opposing it, saying they would work with Republicans to "fix" Obamacare if GOP leaders would give up on their plans to repeal the law.
"Our Democratic friends have spoken a lot recently about wanting bipartisan solutions," McConnell said. "Passing this legislation will provide the opportunity for senators of all parties to engage with a fresh start and a new beginning for the American people."
But Democrats quickly rejected the idea of a repeal bill and said it was unfair for McConnell to blame them when Republicans crafted a process designed to pass a health care bill without a single Democratic vote.
"Passing repeal now is not a door to bipartisan solutions, as the majority leader suggested," Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Rather, it is a disaster. The door to bipartisanship is open right now, not with repeal but with an effort to improve the existing system ... Republicans don't need to wreak havoc on our health care system first in order to get Democrats to the table."
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the repeal bill is like saying "hey, jump off this cliff and were going to figure out how to get you a parachute on the way down."
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., would not say Tuesday whether he still has faith in McConnell as majority leader after the way health care was handled.
Johnson told reporters he was upset by reports that McConnell told moderates privately not to worry about Medicaid cuts, because they would probably never happen. Johnson and other conservatives wanted an overhaul of the Medicaid program, while moderates were trying to ensure that their constituents were not cut off from coverage.
"I found those comments (by McConnell) very troubling," Johnson said.
Contributing: Herb Jackson