Senate Republicans barreled ahead with their uphill battle to repeal and possibly replace Obamacare Wednesday, reviving a 2015 bill that would gut much of the President Obama’s overhaul within two years.
President Trump is willing to sign the measure — his predecessor vetoed the first version — yet the idea faces a deficit of support among Republicans, enraging conservatives who note that many sitting GOP senators backed the idea under a Democratic president.
The effort is the latest step in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push to land a repeal bill that can attract 50 votes from his narrow majority, as he leverages fast-track budget rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster.
“This certainly won’t be easy — hardly anything in this process has been,” Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said. “But we know that moving beyond the failures of Obamacare is the right thing to do.”
Mr. Trump and GOP leaders secured a political victory on Tuesday by convincing all but two Senate Republicans to vote to begin debate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the stalemate.
The vote allowed leaders to get on a House-passed bill and begin sifting through options for their own version in a free-wheeling debate that will feature numerous amendments and stretch through the week.
Yet their first try — on a replacement plan that GOP leaders drafted and redrafted for weeks to try and win over both conservatives and moderates — was defeated hours later, with nine Republicans voting “no,” underscoring GOP rifts and the pitfalls of leadership’s improvisational approach.
The bill was subject to a 60-vote threshold because congressional scorekeepers hadn’t evaluated aspects of it designed to attract both conservatives and moderates. That meant it was doomed before the voting began, though it gave GOP leaders a view of where their senators stood.
Their next attempt is also likely to fail. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski effectively blocked GOP leaders from proceeding with the 2015 repeal measure last week, when it was floated as a fallback to the sputtering replacement bill.
They cited potential coverage losses and the market risks tied to repealing the 2010 law’s mandate requiring people to hold insurance and then phasing out its private-market subsidies and expansion of Medicaid, without a surefire plan for what’s next.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 32 million fewer people would hold insurance by 2026, if Congress failed to come up with a suitable replacement.
Ms. Collins also rejected the bill in late 2015, though Ms. Capito and Ms. Murkowski backed it at the time. With Democrats uniformly opposed to any repeal bill, the Republican trio’s opposition alone would be enough to sink the idea on Wednesday.
Though no one knows where the Senate will end up, one option is to pass a “skinny repeal” bill that would only scrap Obamacare’s mandate requiring individuals to hold insurance, rules requiring large employers to provide coverage and a tax on medical device sales.
That plan would likely be offered later this week should other options fail to win majority support. If successful, senators would try to smooth out differences with House lawmakers, who acted in May, in conference negotiations.
“We’re determined to do everything we can to succeed,” Mr. McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer pleaded with GOP holdouts to reject any measure — even a scaled-down one — that would prolong the push to scrap Obamacare.
“It’s a ruse to get to full repeal,” the New York Democrat said.
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