Dealing a serious blow to President Donald Trump’s agenda, the U.S. Senate early Friday rejected a measure to repeal parts of former president Barack Obama’s health care law after a night of high suspense in the American capitol.
Unable to pass even a so-called “skinny repeal,” it was unclear if Senate Republicans could advance any health bill despite seven years of promises to repeal “Obamacare.”
A key vote to defeat the measure was cast by Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, who returned to the Senate this week after receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer. In an impassioned speech the day he returned, McCain had called for bipartisanship on major issues of national concern, and a return to the “regular order” of legislating by committee.
Three Republicans joined with all Democrats to reject the amendment, which would have repealed a mandate that most individuals get health insurance and suspended a requirement that large companies provide coverage to their employees. It would have also delayed a tax on medical devices and denied funding to Planned Parenthood for a year.
The final vote was 49-51. Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, principled hold outs from the very beginning of the process, joined McCain in voting to reject the measure.
The amendment was a last resort for Senate Republicans to pass something — anything — to trigger negotiations with the House.
“This is clearly a disappointing moment,” said Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He put the health care bill on hold.
Buoyed by a signal from House apeaker Paul Ryan, McConnell had introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal “Obamacare.”
“It’s time to turn the page,” said Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York. “We are not celebrating. We are relieved.”
McConnell had called his measure the Health Care Freedom Act. It was not intended to become law, but to open a path for a House-Senate conference committee to try to work out comprehensive legislation Congress could pass and send to Trump.
The measure would have repealed the unpopular Affordable Care Act requiring most people to have health insurance or risk a fine from the IRS. A similar requirement on larger employers would be suspended for eight years.
Additionally it would have denied funding to Planned Parenthood for a year, and suspended for three years a tax on medical device manufacturers. States could seek waivers from consumer protections in the Obama-era law, and individuals could increase the amount they contribute to tax-sheltered health savings accounts for medical expenses