Republicans scrapped two weeks of vacation in hopes of securing enough votes to roll back Obamacare and move onto other legislative priorities. Senate Democrats, sensing desperation from the GOP, hope to use the extra time working to bury any chance of repeal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that he’ll hold the Senate in town for an additional two weeks to give it more time to pass a repeal and replacement of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment and other legislation. But Democrats used the opportunity to again call on Republicans to drop their efforts to root out Obamacare and instead work with Democrats to fix the existing law.
“This is an opportunity at this point of chaos,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a conservative Democrat who has participated in bipartisan health care talks with moderate Republicans. “I am challenging anyone in (Republican) leadership to drop the strategy you have today and come to the table to work with all of us.”
Several Republican senators floated the possibility as well, with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., suggesting that Senate leaders blundered by shutting out the Democrats. McConnell has sought to pass a bill with only Republican support, but he has struggled to secure the 50 Republican votes he needs.
“We should have been focusing on the damage done by Obamacare and looking at our Democratic colleagues and saying, ‘Who created the mess?’” Johnson said. “I’m not Pollyanish thinking the Democrats are going to help, but maybe if you put enough political pressure, lay out the truth about the damage done by Obamacare, you might have had some bipartisan support for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
McConnell hopes to introduce new language on a bill by Thursday with a revised estimate of its effect by the Congressional Budget Office by the beginning of next week. He hopes for a vote on the measure next week – two weeks after postponing the measure over opposition from Republicans.
The Democratic caucus has shown a unified front, refusing to work with Republicans unless the party drops its push to repeal the 2010 health care law. They took to the Senate floor Tuesday to decry the Senate legislation and plan a press conference Wednesday with the families of medically complex children.
Liberal allies will continue a bus tour to nearly 20 states, including California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Maine, Kentucky and Wisconsin, to rally public opposition to the Republican bill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who accused Republicans of not wanting to go home “and face their constituents” because of the legislation’s unpopularity, said he’s not opposed to working with Republicans on a proposal that fixes the existing law.
“Unfortunately, they want a bill that cuts taxes on the rich and eviscerates Medicaid,” Schumer said.
McConnell last week raised the possibility that if Republicans can’t reach agreement they may have to work with Democrats to shore up the nation’s health care system.
Participating in talks could be tricky as well for Democrats, who face pressure from their progressive wing to embrace a universal, government-funded, health care-for-all system. Many liberals have encouraged Democrats to resist negotiations with Republicans.
“Democratic lawmakers should make certain that they don’t end up signing off on conservative reforms that price millions out of health care,” Robert Borosage, of the liberal advocacy group Campaign for America’s Future, wrote in a blog posting, noting that McConnell would likely look to pick off the fewest number of Democrats he’d need to get legislation passed.
“Democrats should caucus now, work to unify around a proposal and seek the support of a handful of Republicans,” Borosage wrote.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has championed a single-payer system and has said he will file legislation to push for one after the Republican push fails.
And Republicans sought Tuesday to highlight the split in the opposition party, noting news stories that suggest most House Democrats now support a single-payer system.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called the discussion of single payer “irrelevant” to the ongoing talks to repeal, given that no Democrats are involved in the talks.
“The issue to us is stopping Medicaid cuts and stopping this awful bill,” he said.
“I want to get rid of the health care bill, negotiate and fix it,” Brown said. For that to happen, he said, “McConnell’s got to say ‘I don’t want to give a big tax break to insurance companies and drug companies and cut Medicaid.’”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he has talked with Republican senators about fixes, but said “they’re waiting for McConnell to say ‘this is over, I can’t pass it.’”
He said he’s toured Trump-supporting areas of Illinois and found “no base for support.”
“We’ve said from the beginning we want to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “That has been our strategy from the beginning and that hasn’t changed.”
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.