Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had a plan. He and his aides would write a bill in secret, rally GOP senators behind it, and then hold a vote before Congress broke for the 4th of July. That gambit failed spectacularly.
Which led McConnell to pursue Plan B. He'd make some changes to his bill, build a partisan consensus, shore up GOP support over the holiday recess, and then pass it this week. That, too, hasn't worked out well.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told Fox News yesterday that the legislation McConnell drafted "clearly ... is dead" -- a point bolstered by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who suggested on Friday night that the Senate Republicans' proposal no longer exists.
As Politico put it, "It was a grim week for the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare."
The few GOP senators who hosted town hall meetings over the Fourth of July recess were hammered by constituents for trying to undo the health care law. Reliable conservatives like Sens. Jerry Moran and John Hoeven outlined their opposition to the current version of the Senate repeal bill. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged at a luncheon back home in Kentucky that the effort might fail.
Buffeted by headwinds, Republicans will return to Washington on July 10 facing even longer odds for piecing together a bill that can win over skeptical moderates and conservatives in the three weeks before the August recess.... [C]orralling 50 votes looks even more challenging after the holiday. The time away from Washington seemed to embolden uncommitted moderates, who are worried about the political and policy implications of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), taking aim at one of the key policy goals of her party leaders, added, “I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply. So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told some of his constituents the other day, "I don't even know if we're going to get a bill up." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made similar comments on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday.
So, now what?
Health care advocates have reason to feel some increased optimism -- the likelihood of Senate Republicans passing a regressive bill is worse now than before lawmakers left town 10 days ago -- but to assume the fight is over would be a mistake.
The Washington Post reported that there's still an "urgent blitz" on the way.
Aware that the next 14 days probably represent their last chance to salvage their flagging endeavor, President Trump, Vice President Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intend to single out individual senators and escalate a broad defense of the evolving proposal, according to Republicans familiar with their plans.
When Trump returns from Europe, he plans to counter the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's analysis of the legislation -- which shows that 22 million fewer people would have insurance coverage by 2026 than under the current law -- with figures and analyses from conservative groups and Republicans that show more benefits and less disruption, should the bill pass, according to a White House official familiar with the strategy.
Of course, if GOP officials are re-writing the bill, quickly coming up with phony data to compete with the Congressional Budget Office's figures might be tricky. For that matter, whether on-the-fence senators would take seriously "figures and analyses from conservative groups" is unclear.
Complicating matters, there's growing pressure on Republicans -- who have only three weeks of legislating before their lengthy summer break begins - to tackle other, potentially easier, issues.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, told the Washington Post the caucus will soon have to decide whether the health care initiative is viable. "This does not get better over time," the Missouri Republican said, "and we're losing valuable time to get other things that we need to do as well."
If all else fails, McConnell has admitted he's open to a bipartisan ACA fix -- though the Republican leader clearly sees such an approach as a last resort.