Senate Republican leaders postponed a vote Tuesday on a sweeping healthcare bill until after the July 4 recess, signalling the major fissures in the party that have torpedoed any hopes of legislative gains despite the Republican party controlling all three branches of government.
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who worked for weeks in closed-door sessions to craft a suitable bill, told lawmakers a vote would not happen until Congress returns from recess the week of July 10, a major setback as the Republicans attempt to abrogate major parts of the Affordable Care Act after several years of pledging to do so.
The delay came after efforts stalled to modify the bill and sway the minds of the nine Republican senators who now oppose the legislation, but Mr. Mcconnell hinted there was room for manoeuvre as he attempts to garner enough support before returning to Congress.
In a stern test of his leadership, Mr. Mcconnell will need to bridge a consequential divide between conservative Republicans like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who want full, not partial, repeal of the ACA, and GOP centrists like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who voiced opposition to the steep cuts in Medicaid that would negatively affect their older constituents.
The delay is a setback to President Donald Trump, who publicly supported the bill, and Mcconnell, who promised there would be a vote this week. On Monday, Senate Majority Whip, John Cornyn, said “we need to do it this week” as the leaders tried to push through a routine procedural motion allowing the vote to proceed.
Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in response to the delay, said democrats are not resting easy: “we know the fight is not over, that is for sure,” before adding the Democrats don’t have a “sense of accomplishment” over the delay of the healthcare bill.
Although the delay will come as a slight victory for the Democrats and members of the public opposed to the bill, the Republicans will take solace from the experience of House Republicans, whose own healthcare bill was declared dead, before regrouping and passing it in May.
Senate Republicans exclaimed they must pass the legislation before Congress’ August recess, ensuring the GOP’s legislative agenda is on track as failure could stymie any hope for tax reform.
Republican senators said the delay was inevitable, especially after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found the bill would result in 22 million more people uninsured than the ACA over the next decade and rising premiums for the older generation.
“It’s the only way forward. People have issues that need to be addressed,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tuesday, who has said he has some concerns about the bill but hasn’t come out against it. “I read the CBO report this morning at about 4 a.m., and as you go through it, it raises questions and they’re legitimate.”
Centrists Ms. Collins, and Ms. Lisa Murkowski, were seated near President Trump as he summoned all Republican senators to the White House after the postponement, but it remains to be seen whether both senators drop their support for Planned Parenthood as the conservatives want all funding stripped from the organisation.
The July recess sets up critical time for the Senate Republican leadership, President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to lobby and arm-twist senators across the ideological spectrum as they aim to overcome the visible fissures in the party and get a legislative win on the board for the president.