Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Saturday night that he is delaying the attempted vote on the Senate GOP’s bill to repeal and replace Obamacare while Senator John McCain, an essential vote for the bill, recovers from brain surgery. The 80-year-old senator’s “minimally invasive” craniotomy, which was suddenly needed on Friday to remove a blood clot above McCain’s left eye that doctors found during a routine physical, was successfully performed at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. As a result, McCain will remain home with his family in Arizona to recover over the next week. Without McCain in Washington, McConnell only has a possible 49 of the 50 votes he needs to proceed on the latest incarnation of the party’s embattled Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), which aims to dismantle and sort of replace the Affordable Care Act. Said McConnell in a statement on Saturday, “While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act.” Both McConnell and the White House had claimed that a vote on the bill was planned for this week.
Even with McCain around, however, it was far from guaranteed that McConnell and the other Senate GOP leaders would have been able to bring the BCRA to a vote. No Democrats or independents in the Senate support the bill, and two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have said they will not vote to allow debate to begin on the bill. That means 50 senators oppose the bill, and McConnell would need every other Republican (plus Vice-President Pence as a tiebreaker) to move forward procedurally. That already seemed unlikely thanks to the widely criticized bill’s massive (and deserved) unpopularity and the fact that there are already additional Republican senators who are skeptical of the legislation — at least until McConnell tries to buy them off.
It’s doubtful the longer wait is good for the bill’s chances. Opponents of the BCRA continue to make their voices heard, and the Congressional Budget Office may now get another week to score the bill’s divisive Cruz amendment. (A score of the latest version of the bill without the Cruz amendment is expected as soon as Monday.) CBO scores on earlier iterations of the GOP’s health-care plans have indicated that those bills would leave tens of millions of Americans without health insurance. Given those terrible scores, neither McConnell nor the Trump administration wants to rely on the CBO, so they’ve been rushing to come up with alternative, partisan scoring methods, which would produce more supportive results. If the Cruz amendment gets panned by the CBO and that score lands before McCain returns, it may mean the end for the latest — or any — version of the McConnell-crafted plan.
This post has been updated to reflect more detail and context regarding the upcoming CBO scores of the GOP health-care bill.