Democrats seek compromise as Republicans struggle to salvage Obamacare repeal
Democrats expressed optimism Wednesday that the latest setback for Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will open the door to bipartisan cooperation, but Republicans have not abandoned their goal of undoing President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
The Senate version of a repeal-and-replace bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, sank earlier this week after four senators came out against it, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still plans to hold a vote on a straight repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, even though it does not currently have the votes to pass.
President Donald Trump invited Senate Republicans to the White House for lunch Wednesday to discuss the future of their health care legislation, but he complained on Twitter that the GOP has not talked enough about how good the BCRA is.
According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., there is a simple explanation for that: the bill is not good at all.
“The fundamental reason that the Republican Party couldn’t pull this off is because the bill was fundamentally a terrible bill,” he said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the BCRA would have left 22 million more people uninsured over the next ten years, a slight improvement over the 23 million predicted for the version of the bill the House passed in May.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would free up insurers to sell plans that do not meet the ACA’s requirements has not yet been scored. Opposition to the bill came from both conservatives who complained it did not go far enough in repealing the ACA and moderates who feared it went too far in rolling back the expansion of Medicaid.
“If you try to sell lousy legislation that hurts millions of people, they’re going to catch on sooner or later and they caught on pretty quick to this,” Whitehouse said.
House Republicans, many of whom took the politically risky vote to pass their bill with the expectation that the Senate would produce something better, have been frustrated by the lack of progress in the upper chamber. Even using the reconciliation process that enables them to pass a bill with a simple majority, they have proven incapable of doing what they have long said they would.
“Republicans have the House, we have the Senate, we have the presidency,” said Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill. “We need to govern and fix problems, and it’s very disappointing to see the Senate this week not be able to get past this hurdle.”
He called on Senate Republicans do their jobs and keep their campaign promise to repeal the ACA.
“We did our part in the House in terms of repealing and replacing Obamacare, bringing relief to the American people,” he said. “That’s what we promised. We have to fulfill those promises of what we said we were going to do.”
However, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said her constituents are better off if the bill dies.
“It’s good for the state of Nevada because hundreds of thousands of people would lose their insurance if it passed,” she said.
As polls show a majority of voters want the two parties to compromise and fix the ACA rather than repeal it, she suggested this moment of failure is an opportunity to start that process.
“Maybe this will be a wake-up call to the Republicans that people don’t want to repeal it, but let’s work together to fix it,” she said.
After a secretive legislative process that produced the BCRA without any attempt to solicit Democratic input, the minority party insists there is potential for agreement if the GOP is ready to negotiate in good faith.
“We’ve been eager to for a long time now, and now that the Republicans I think have learned the message that you really can’t get a terrible piece of legislation through because your voters won’t permit it, they’ve got a chance to work with us,” Whitehouse said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said members of both parties support a bipartisan approach, despite the unilateral path Republican leadership has chosen to take and President Trump’s “disastrous, irresponsible statement” that they should let the ACA fail and foist blame upon Democrats before trying to fix the system.
“I can tell you there are plenty of Republican and Democratic senators who want to sit down, roll up their sleeves, and get to work,” he said.
However, as dead as repeal looked on Tuesday afternoon, Democrats warned that the outcome of the fight remains uncertain.
“There’s always the danger that the zombie hand thrusts itself out of the earth and this thing starts to walk again,” Whitehouse said.