Congress facing obstacles in health care fight


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Republican hopes for repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama’s health care law are still twitching in Congress, though barely.

Leaders lack the votes to pass something and face a fresh obstacle — the Senate parliamentarian ruled Friday that Republicans only have the ability to dismantle the law with 51 votes until the end of the month.

It’s among several health issues lawmakers face when they return from summer recess, even as fights over the budget and helping Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey grab center stage.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to push three plans through his chamber erasing the 2010 law called Obamacare. Republican defections denied him the 50 votes needed, with Vice President Mike Pence ready to seal victory with a tie-breaking vote.

The excruciating last roll call failed 51-49. Three Republicans voted “no,” one more than McConnell could afford to lose. President Donald Trump used August to insult McConnell for that flop, even suggesting he might need to relinquish his leadership post, inflaming tensions between the White House and congressional Republicans and lacerating party unity.

Republicans have used a procedure that’s prevented Democrats from killing the health bill by filibuster. It takes 60 votes to defeat a filibuster. Without that special step, Republicans controlling the Senate 52-48 would need support from eight Democrats to repeal Obamacare, impossible given unanimous Democratic opposition.

The safeguard against filibusters was included in a budget for the government’s 2017 fiscal year that Republicans pushed through Congress in January.

That protection expires at the end of September, the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has ruled. That’s when the fiscal year ends.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in light of the ruling, “we need to work together to expand, not cut, health care for millions of Americans who desperately need it.”

That leaves Republicans with only September to nurture their slim repeal hopes unless the GOP-run chamber votes to overrule her.

This repeal push comes from GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and Nevada’s Dean Heller.

They’ve proposed funneling Obamacare’s federal dollars directly to states and erasing its requirements that people buy coverage and companies offer it to employees.

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