WASHINGTON - One day after getting a green light to debate health care in America, Senate Republicans struggled Wednesday to put forth a politically viable plan to repeal former U.S. president Barack Obama's health care law, despite continuing pressure from the White House.
Nine Republicans joined a unified Democratic caucus late Tuesday to vote down a plan Republican leaders crafted behind closed doors to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that pares back the federal government's role in health care.
On Wednesday, the chamber voted 55-45 to defeat a bill that would terminate Obamacare but leave its replacement for a future date.
"It seems the Republican majority is no clearer on what the endgame is, because there's no good way out of this," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Health care blueprint
The Senate's Republican leaders have conceded they do not know what, if any, health care blueprint might get majority backing, and have set aside floor time for members to propose legislation that would get swift consideration, in what is called a "vote-a-rama" (rapid voting cycle).
"I know members of both parties have health care ideas they'd like to offer," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. "If you've got one, bring it to the floor. We'll consider many different proposals throughout this process from senators on both sides of the aisle."
Should the chamber fail to coalesce around any health care formula, McConnell is widely expected to force a vote on a partial Obamacare repeal that strips the law of some of its least popular elements: a tax on medical devices and a requirement that Americans either purchase health care insurance or pay a fine.
"Ultimately, we want to get legislation to finally end the failed Obamacare status quo through Congress to the president's desk for his signature," McConnell said. "We have to keep up the work now so we can get this done."
Passage of a partial repeal, called the "skinny" option, would set up negotiations between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to hammer out a final bill. Democrats noted the Republican-led House already passed a full repeal measure, and that bicameral negotiations would likely yield a product similar to legislation the Senate already rejected or stall entirely.
"It's likely that a conference would produce no agreement at all, keeping the incredibly toxic and unpopular Trumpcare bill the topic of conversation for another three months, stalling the legislative agenda for another three months, and in the end getting nothing done," Schumer said.
Bipartisan legislation suggested
Rather than a haphazard Senate vote-a-rama on health care, a sector that accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy, Democrats suggested crafting legislation on a bipartisan basis in committee, with public hearings to vet ideas.
"If we stop this effort with Trumpcare, with repeal or repeal and replace, we can go back in committee and improve the present health care system," Schumer said. "Get premiums lower, get health care better."
In response, some Republicans complained that, so far, Democrats are spending more time shooting down Republican proposals than putting forth ideas of their own.
"We'd have a lot more confidence in getting a solution if there were a single positive suggestion from the other side for a change," Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming said. "Until that happens, there isn't much confidence on our side that the promise of bipartisanship is going to happen."
Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Amid the squabbling on Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump has made clear he wants results.
Trump took to Twitter to blast Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of two Republican senators who voted against Tuesday's motion to begin debate on health care. The president wrote that Murkowski had "really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!"