Mitch McConnell Concedes An Obamacare Repeal Might Fail

by Seth Millstein
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans have spent months trying to pass some form of health care legislation, but it now looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's faith in an Obamacare repeal is wavering. During a Thursday meeting at the Rotary Club, McConnell acknowledged that Republicans might not be able to pass a piece of replacement legislation, and that if this occurs, the GOP should instead take action to improve existing insurance markets.

"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur," McConnell said at the meeting, according to several attendees.

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate, and every Democrat is expected to vote against Obamacare repeal. This means that McConnell can only afford to lose two GOP votes and still pass the legislation. But as of Thursday, a total of 10 Republican senators have said they can't support the legislation in its current form. These defections include both moderate senators who think the bill is too conservative, like Dean Heller and Susan Collins, and staunch conservatives who think it's too moderate, like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

McConnell's task has been to bridge this gap, and Senate Republicans are still tweaking the bill in an attempt to rally 50 votes for the legislation. But the number of Republican defectors has been growing, not shrinking, and McConnell's comments on Thursday indicate that he knows there's a chance the bill will fail.

The House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, its version of Obamacare repeal, in April, sending the bill to the Senate. But McConnell quickly announced that Republicans would rewrite the bill from the ground up to ensure it had enough support among Republican senators to pass.

Although Senate Republicans are generally a cohesive group, they evidently have a wide range of feelings about Obamacare, many of which conflict with one another. For instance, several moderate Republicans are wary of scaling back Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, which has drastically expanded health coverage for low-income Americans. But for many conservative Republicans, rolling back Medicaid is one of the central goals of repealing Obamacare to begin with.

McConnell also asserted at Thursday's meeting that there are "insurance markets imploding all over the country." The Congressional Budget Office, however, concluded in March that the market for Americans who buy health insurance privately "would probably be stable in most areas" if Obamacare remained the law of the land. The CBO also estimated that the Senate bill would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million over the next 10 years.