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Last night was, without a doubt, one for the history books. The Senate unexpectedly failed to move an Obamacare repeal bill at 1:30 am, and the chamber’s two months of work on legislating (and seven years of campaigning) on the issue all came crashing down.
For those of you who did not stay up until 2 am watching C-SPAN-2, I highly recommend this piece from Dylan Scott that runs through how the bill collapsed as Republicans ended up one vote short on the Health Care Freedom Act, a last-ditch effort to pass at least something through the chamber.
I will just add two thoughts beyond what Dylan goes through there.
First, this is not just the failure of one health care bill. This was the failure of four GOP health bills — all the options that were on the table. The early morning Friday vote was the culmination of a week of debate, where the Senate rejected health care bill after health care bill. This included:
- The House-passed American Health Care Act: This bill never got voted down because it was never brought to debate. And it wasn’t brought to debate because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knew it wouldn’t have enough support to pass the chamber. This bill showed up in the Senate dead on arrival.
- The Better Care Reconciliation Act: This was the Senate’s best attempt at repeal and replace, a bill that would wipe much of the law off the book and replace it with a smaller coverage expansion. This bill failed as moderate senators balked at the Medicaid cuts.
- The Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act: This bill was never really intended to pass but ended up in the mix early last week, when McConnell knew that BCRA couldn’t get enough votes. Why not let his caucus vote on straight repeal, and prove it can’t pass? He let the vote happen, and it failed.
- The Health Care Freedom Act: The last-ditch attempt bill — senators saw this bill that repealed the individual mandate as a vehicle to start a conference with the House. But it couldn’t get the support. It was such a poorly designed bill that senators were in the awkward position of asking the House not to pass it in order to secure their support.
Four bills, all voted down, over the course of three days. This makes the health care failure in the House a bit different from what we saw in the Senate.
In the House, in what feels like eons ago in March, Republicans tried and failed to pass the American Health Care Act. A vote was canceled, Republicans revised the bill, and two months later it passed. The AHCA remained a base that Republican House members could tinker with.
In the Senate, though, there is no base left to be tinkered with. The Senate already did tinker with its health care bill, multiple times, and none of the versions were able to pass muster. The Senate already went back to the drawing board, multiple times, and didn’t like what it came up with.
That being said — and moving on to my second thought — I don’t think this is over. It is true that three Republican senators voted against a bill to repeal Obamacare. It is also true that 49 Republican senators voted for that bill.
There is a strong drive in the Republican party to deliver on the campaign promise they’ve made for seven years and, if I’ve learned anything in this process, it is that this drive cannot be underestimated.
Within moments of the bill’s failure Friday morning, the conservative Heritage Action group released a statement arguing that “Repealing and, ultimately, replacing Obamacare will require moderate Republicans to come to the table and follow through on their repeated campaign promises.”
And House Republicans, meanwhile, continue to hold out hope for a path forward. Vox’s Tara Golshan was at the conference’s regular Friday meeting this morning, where she spoke with conservative Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). He was already talking about paving a new path forward, citing a yet-to-be-seen bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy and continuing talks about the Sen. Ted Cruz amendment, which failed to pass Senate rules and handily failed to pass the Senate. The House is off to its month-long recess. According to members, there is some negotiating happening behind closed doors, but no clear path on where to go forward.
This is all to say, Obamacare repeal is dead now. It will not be revived this weekend, and probably not next week either. But it is not off the table, and still an option that a sizeable number of legislators support — and some are even enthusiastic to return to.
Photograph of the Day
This annotated photograph of the Senate floor last night is brilliant. David Mack at BuzzFeed has a wonderful, GIF-filled play by play of the Senate debate’s final, unpredictable moments that I cannot recommend enough. Read it here.
With research help from Caitlin Davis
Today’s top news
- “House Republicans dispair after health care collapse” “After taking a politically poisonous vote on a controversial repeal bill, the Senate failed to unite around a substantial policy replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law, leaving House Republicans exposed.” —Rachel Bade, John Bresnehan and Burgess Everett, Politico
- “Obama camp praises everyone who ‘made their voices heard’ against GOP health care bill” “On Friday, via spokesperson Kevin Lewis, Obama praised the activist and grassroots efforts that helped stop Republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.” —Tara Golshan, Vox
- “Trump calls for Senate to implement 51-vote threshold after ‘skinny’ repeal bill fails” “The president has in the past advocated changing Senate rules to operate on a majority-vote basis, as the House does. But the healthcare bill that failed in the Senate on Friday needed only 51 votes to pass, and three Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.” —Melissa Quinn, the Washington Examiner
Longer reads and analysis
- “What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and Collins did was harder.” “Murkowski and Collins were the only Republicans to vote against a motion to proceed with the health care bill debate. Both women cast votes against the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which could have led to 22 million more uninsured Americans. They both also voted against the Obamacare Reconciliation Act — repeal and delay — which could have led to 32 million more uninsured Americans.” —Alexia Fernandez Campbell, Vox
- “When yesterday’s promises become tomorrow’s failures” “necessary and overdue reform will have to get restarted by learning from past failures and writing a new first chapter of a different book that first meets voters where they are but then challenges them to ask for something better from themselves” —Thomas Miller, American Enterprise Institute
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