CAPITOL HILL —
Senate Republicans on Tuesday abandoned their latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, after it became clear the bill would be defeated if brought up for a vote this week.
“We don't have the votes,” said Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, co-author of Graham-Cassidy, which would have transferred Obamacare funds to individual U.S. states to craft their own health care programs. “Am I disappointed? Absolutely.”
“We haven't given up on changing the American health care system,” insisted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, after a weekly caucus meeting. “We are not going to be able to do that this week, but it still lies ahead of us.”
Watch: Republicans put off health care vote
Senate Democrats, who have fought tooth and nail against a series of Republican health care proposals since June, expressed relief and a desire for a bipartisan solution to fix Obamacare's shortcomings.
“Mitch McConnell has dumped Trumpcare for now. Thank goodness,” tweeted Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“Once this repeal effort is gone, we are willing — eager — to sit down and come up with bipartisan improvements (to Obamacare), and do it in the regular order,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Let's move on and try to make our system better.”
Republicans faced an end-of-month procedural deadline to pass a health care bill with a simple majority. Beginning Oct. 1, a three-fifths vote would have been required to advance Graham-Cassidy. Late Monday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine became the third Republican to announce opposition to the bill, putting even a simple majority out of reach given unified Democratic opposition.
The latest failure to end Obamacare drew criticism from President Donald Trump and boosted frustration within a party that has yet to deliver on an ironclad pledge repeatedly made to voters.
“We were very disappointed by a couple of senators, Republican senators,” Trump said at the White House Tuesday. “We were very disappointed that they would take the attitude that they did.”
“We still need to do something,” said Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. “Health care is completely unaffordable.”
For House Republicans who passed an Obamacare repeal and replace bill earlier this year, Senate inaction has been a sore topic.
“Obviously in the House we're a little frustrated because the House has done its job. We passed our health care bill in May,” said Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “So yes, we're a little frustrated that the Senate has not acted on a seminal [Republican] promise, health care.”
For now, McConnell said Senate Republicans are turning the page.
“Where we go from here is tax reform,” the majority leader said.
Democrats urged swift action on a bipartisan health care effort that was put on hold when Graham-Cassidy emerged.
“The answer is staring us in the face,” said Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. “Let the committees … take up these bills, hear from the parents, hear from the hospitals, hear from the doctors, and come up with a bipartisan set of solutions that will make health care better, not worse.”
Collins echoed the call.
“I very much want us to resume the work that the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee was doing under the leadership of [Republican] Lamar Alexander and [Democrat] Patty Murray,” the Maine Republican said. “I believe that offers great promise for stabilizing the insurance markets and helping to lower premiums.”
But many Republicans continue to insist that Obamacare can't be fixed and that replacing the 2010 law is the only solution.
“With a process that gives more attention and time, we will repeal and replace Obamacare with a block grant called Graham-Cassidy," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "We're coming back to this after taxes. We're going to have time to explain our concept. We'll have a better process.
“We're going to get there,” Graham stressed.
VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.