The Senate has delayed voting on the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act until after July 4. The move comes less than a day after the Congressional Budget Office scored the legislation and a number of Republican Senators expressed reservations.
The Senate GOP's bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would increase the number of people without health coverage by 22 million and cut the deficit by $321 billion through 2026, the CBO said on Monday. The forecasts spooked Republicans' confidence in the bill, with at least five lawmakers saying they would vote against a procedural motion to move forward.
"We're going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences we have," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a press conference on Tuesday.
He said healthcare is a "very complicated subject" and noted the difficulties Democrats in passing the ACA in 2009 and 2010.
Conservative Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) asid they were not prepared to vote on the bill without alterations, and moderates Dean Heller (R-NV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) said they wouldn't vote for it, either.
Collins in a string of tweets Monday evening said the Senate bill doesn't fix the Affordable Care Act's problems for rural Maine. She noted one in five people from the state are on Medicaid, which the BCRA would gut by almost $800 billion over the next decade. "I want to work [with] my GOP [and Democratic] colleagues to fix the flaws in [the] ACA," she said.
Paul met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday and tweeted that the president is "open to making the bill better."
Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) have also expressed reservations about the legislation.
"We're still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place," McConnell said. He said GOP Senators will meet with the president at the White House this afternoon and that he remains "optimistic."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) slammed the bill as "fundamentally flawed at the center" and promised to fight it "tooth and nail."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press briefing on Tuesday that the president remains "optimistic" on healthcare and committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. "It's never been about the timeline," she said.
Of the CBO score, she said the White House agrees with the budget-related findings on revenue and spending, which favor it, but not coverage.
Wall Street is closely watching the healthcare debate in Washington not only for signals on what will happen to hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical stocks but also for indications on what might come on tax reform and infrastructure, two legislative items that drove the so-called Trump rally after the 2016 election.
Compass Point analyst Isaac Boltansky in a note on Tuesday ahead of the delay said scrapping the BCRA altogether might actual speed taxes up. "The market may view BCRA failing as a near-term negative for the GOP's broader legislative agenda, but we contend that failing to pass health care legislation would dramatically increase the sense of urgency surrounding the tax reform conversation, which would be a welcome sign for investors," he said.
When lawmakers reconvene after the July 4 recess, they'll have another and perhaps more pressing matter to contend with: the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has asked Congress to address the debt ceiling before they take off for their month-long August recess, meaning they would have to attempt revamping one-sixth of the U.S. economy and avoid the U.S. defaulting on its creditors in a period of about three weeks.