Republicans sought to regroup Tuesday after their quest to scale back the U.S. government’s role in health care collapsed, leaving in place former President Barack Obama’s health care law, popularly known as Obamacare.
“I’m certainly disappointed. For seven years, I’ve been hearing ‘repeal and replace’ from Congress,” said a visibly angry President Donald Trump. “And then when we finally get a chance to repeal and replace, they don’t take advantage of it.”
Scorned by Republican fiscal hawks for allegedly retaining too much Obamacare spending, and by party moderates who feared the bill went too far in dismantling the status quo, Republicans fell short of the votes needed for passage in the Senate.
“I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
McConnell: Repeal, don’t replace
McConnell floated a new idea: Scrap Obamacare with no replacement plan at all. Several Republican senators quickly rejected the idea, as did a unified Democratic caucus.
“I don’t believe that a majority of senators are willing to support a reckless leap in the dark,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
Republicans crafted the bill on their own, behind closed doors. Democrats urged cooperation to address Obamacare’s shortcomings, which include rising premiums and a dwindling number of insurers taking part in the program in many states.
“The door to bipartisanship is open right now,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Republicans only need to walk through it.”
Trump: Let Obamacare fail
The president suggested a different course: Do nothing on the assumption that Obamacare’s flaws will deepen, giving Republicans leverage.
“We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they are going to say, ‘How do we fix it?’ Or, ‘How do we come up with a new plan?'” Trump said.
Trump promised Republican “wins” on other priorities like tax reform. Such victories become harder with Republicans bruised and the president’s clout in question after the defeat on health care, according to political analysts.
“It’s also shown us some of the limits of legislating with an inexperienced president in the White House and an unpopular president in the White House,” said Molly Reynolds of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “If Republicans couldn’t pass a bill that they’ve been promising to pass for seven years, that will raise some questions about whether they’ll be able to follow through on other legislative priorities.”
Democrats have divides of their own on health care, between those who want to strengthen the private insurance market Obamacare fosters and those demanding universal coverage in which the government pays all costs.
Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report.