WASHINGTON — Two more Republican senators declared on Monday night that they would oppose the Senate Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, killing, for now, a 7-year-old promise to overturn President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.
The announcement by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left their leaders at least two votes short of the number needed to begin debate on their bill to dismantle the health law. Two other Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, had already said they would not support a procedural step to begin debate.
With four solid votes against the bill, Republican leaders now have two options.
They can try to rewrite it in a way that can secure 50 Republican votes, a seeming impossibility since the defecting senators are not suggesting small changes to the existing bill but a fresh start. Or they can work with Democrats on a narrower measure to fix the flaws in the Affordable Care Act that both parties acknowledge.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, conceded Monday night that "the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful." But he said he would move to pass a measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act now, then work on a replacement over the next two years. That has almost no chance to pass, either, since it could leave millions without insurance and leave insurance markets in turmoil.
But President Donald Trump was not ready to give up. He immediately took to Twitter to say: "Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!"
In announcing his opposition to the bill, Moran said it "fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care's rising costs."
"There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it," he said in a statementIn his own statement, Lee said of the bill, "In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations."
By jumping together, Moran and Lee ensured no one would be the definitive "no" vote.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, responded to the announcements by urging his Republican colleagues to begin anew and, this time, to undertake a bipartisan effort.
"This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable," Schumer said. "Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system."
The opposition from Paul and Collins was expected, so McConnell had no margin for error as he unveiled the latest version of his bill. Though Paul and Collins rejected his bill, McConnell survived through the weekend and until Monday night without losing another of his members — though some expressed misgivings or, at the very least, uncertainty.
McConnell had wanted to move ahead with a vote this week, but was forced to step back from that plan after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., underwent surgery last week. That unexpected setback had given the forces that opposed the bill more time to pressure undecided senators. On Friday, the health insurance lobby, which had been largely silent during the fight, came off the sidelines to blast a key part of the latest Senate bill, saying it was unworkable, would send premiums soaring and would cost millions of Americans their insurance.
McConnell has now failed twice in recent weeks in rolling out his repeal bill and keeping his caucus together in advance of a planned vote. He first wanted to hold a vote in late June, only to abandon that plan after running into opposition.
Lee, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, had championed a proposal that would allow insurers to sell low-cost, stripped-down plans — an idea that ended up being added to the latest version of McConnell's bill. But the language that was added to the bill was not quite what Lee had been advocating, his office said after the bill was released.
Moran faced pressure in his home state about how the bill would affect Kansas, including its rural hospitals. The Kansas Hospital Association said last week that the latest version of the Senate bill "comes up short, particularly for our most vulnerable patients."