The Better Care Reconciliation Act is struggling to capture enough Republican votes to pass the Senate chamber, and a moderate Republican from Maine may have just delivered the decisive blow against this divisive legislation. Senator Susan Collins has just announced her opposition to the bill, which means the GOP’s Obamacare replacement will fall just short of passage in its current state. This development marks a major blow against the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been trying to shore up support for a vote by July 4th.
Under the Senate’s rules for budget reconciliation, 51 votes are required to move the bill forward. The Republican majority encompasses just 52 members, so the caucus needs to be practically unified before the legislation has a chance. McConnell can only afford to lose two votes if he counts on Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaker. Before Collins made her announcement, the GOP’s healthcare plan had already been rejected by conservative senators such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Mike Lee and Dean Heller were also on the fence. Now, with the loss of Collins’ support, the bill’s passage is completely imperiled.
Collins had previously stated that her support for the bill would depend on the score it earned from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The economic calculations from the CBO were long-awaited, and the results are finally in. According to their estimates, the Republican’s proposal would cause at least 22 million people to lose their health coverage within the next decade alone. The nationwide reduction of insured individuals would primarily be linked to the loss of Medicaid funding. Within minutes of the official CBO statement, Collins declared that she would vote no, and she cited Medicaid as a primary reason for her decision: “Medicaid cuts hurt most vulnerable Americans… Our hospitals are already struggling. 1 in 5 Mainers are on Medicaid.”
The GOP had originally planned to push their secretive legislation through the chamber before their upcoming recess. Collins has just certified that this scenario will no longer occur. In fact, McConnell has responded by postponing the date until senators return after their summer break. President Donald Trump is meeting with several Republicans who are planning to vote against the bill in hopes of pressuring them into offering their support. If the partisan legislation fails, the Senate may be forced into bipartisan talks with Democrats. McConnell has stated that the only alternatives available are either shelving the bill and allowing Obamacare to stand or working across the aisle to fix parts of the damaged market on an incremental basis.
The procedural votes were originally slated to begin immediately, but now the timeline is far from certain. Trump has stated that he would like to sign the legislation by August. As it stands, the president does not have a single significant legislative achievement, so the congressional dynamics are threatening to stall his administration’s entire agenda.
While low-income Americans may rejoice at the notion that this bill will fail, such complacency is dangerous. The potential harm of this legislation warrants a major public outcry. Although the bill has been delayed in its current form, this does not guarantee that it will fail to muster enough votes later. By being postponed, the GOP might be hoping that the negative publicity dies down before the time they hold a vote.
Supporting such a devastating overhaul of the insurance industry could be considered political suicide, and Senator Susan Collins made the right decision in bucking her party’s authority. Hopefully, her courageous actions will be enough to stifle progress on this destructive Obamacare repeal.