WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Republicans could not muster enough support for a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the early morning hours Friday, with Arizona Sen. John McCain dramatically casting the decisive vote against the plan.
McCain joined with Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine in voting against the so-called skinny repeal package just before 2 a.m. Friday — the third failed Republican vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act in as many days.
Murkowski and Collins voted against both other attempts to repeal the health care law this week, but McCain’s vote was in question until he cast it, to the applause of Democrats.
The three Republicans were the difference in the 49-51 vote that struck down the plan. Republicans could afford only two defections for their attempts to succeed.
“I regret that we’re here, but I want to say again I’m proud of the vote I cast tonight,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor after the vote failed. “It’s consistent with what we told the American people we would try to accomplish in four straight elections, if they gave us a chance, and I want to thank all of my colleagues on this side of the aisle for everything they did to try to keep that commitment.”
The bill would have repealed the mandates in the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which require most people to buy insurance and most businesses to provide it for their employees.
It also would have defunded Planned Parenthood, moving the money to community health centers, and suspend an Obamacare tax on medical devices.
It would have increased limits on health savings account and expedited the process for states to receive waivers for some Obamacare regulations.
“The legislation I just handed down is called the Health Care Freedom Act and it restores freedom to Americans that Obamacare took away,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
An analysis the Congressional Budget Office released just before the vote found that 16 million fewer people would have insurance by 2026 under the Republican plan, compared to the current law.
The budget office estimated that premiums on policies bought in the individual market would have increased by “roughly 20 percent” under the Republican plan, compared to what they would be under Obamacare for each year from 2018 to 2026.
The bill was unveiled on the Senate floor at 10 p.m. Thursday, just over two hours before it went to vote, though rumblings of what would be in the bill had moved through the Senate all day.
Many Republicans agreed to vote for the legislation so long as they received assurances from House leadership that they would not vote on the legislation, only to send it to a conference committee, in which lawmakers iron out differences between Senate and House versions of bills.
There, many Republicans hoped, lawmakers would be able to negotiate an entirely new piece of legislation.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Thursday evening that the House would be willing to join a conference committee, though he did not commit to not voting on the legislation itself.
“Senators have made clear that this is an effort to keep the process alive, not to make law,” Ryan said in a statement. “If moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do. The reality, however, is that repealing and replacing Obamacare still ultimately requires the Senate to produce 51 votes for an actual plan. The House remains committed to finding a solution and working with our Senate colleagues, but the burden remains on the Senate to demonstrate that it is capable of passing something that keeps our promise, as the House has already done.”
The process Republicans used to pass the bill infuriated Democrats, who repeatedly attempted to interject into a speech Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., used Thursday night to use up the remainder of the Republicans’ debate time. Democrats complained they had not had enough time to read the bill and warned Republicans there was a good chance the House will simply take up the bill if it passed in the Senate.
“This bill is lighting the American health care system on fire with intentionality,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on the Senate floor.
Republicans held open for nearly an hour a vote on a procedural attempt to derail the bill, which came just before the vote on the repeal legislation, much longer than the 15 minutes normally allotted for votes.
Vice President Mike Pence, on Capitol Hill in case his vote was needed to break a tie, spent some of that time talking with McCain.
McCain opened the week with another dramatic vote, when he returned to the Senate for the first time since announcing his brain cancer diagnosis to vote in favor of allowing the Senate to take up the health care legislation.
He then delivered a rousing floor speech, pleading for the Senate to return to bipartisanship, which McConnell hinted could be a possibility in his speech after the vote, saying it would be time to hear Democrats’ opinions on the issue.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats were “relieved” at the outcome of the vote, and called on McConnell to allow committees to consider the legislation, as is the traditional process in Congress.
“We can work together; our country demands it,” Schumer said in a floor speech after the vote.