After six months of Republican-led closed door meetings on health care, Senate leadership finally looks to be pivoting.
On Tuesday at the Senate committee on Health, Education Labor, and Pensions, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced the committee will begin bipartisan health hearings on September 4th — signaling a new way forward for health care reform.
The news follows earlier comments from Senate Republican leadership that the party will no longer be pushing for health care reform on its own.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asked the Senate to move on, after a week of repeated failed Obamacare repeal efforts. On Tuesday morning, McConnell outlined the week’s agenda, and health care isn’t on it.
Trump: NO MORE SENATE VOTES UNTIL HEALTH CARE IS D—
McConnell: This week we’re gonna confirm nominees, do an FDA bill and overhaul the VA.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 1, 2017
During a weekly Senate presser, McConnell candidly said for perhaps the first time that the “problem on health care was not the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Republicans.”
McConnell isn’t the only Republican to seemingly dismiss President Trump’s call for the Senate to keep moving on health care.
Senator John Thune (R-SD), the third-highest ranking GOP member, told Politico on Monday that the Senate would move away from health care “until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote.” Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch (R-UT) also said Monday that the health bill has been too divisive to keep working on.
On the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) wasn’t as direct about bipartisan health legislation. He only went as far as to say that the public expects the chamber to fix the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but that failed “fragile majorities” have indicated that cooperation is needed to solve the problems.
The only senators pushing health reform this legislative calendar are Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who have continued to advocate for their own legislation. The Graham/Cassidy plan looks to end the health law’s subsidies and cut Medicaid expansion. It never gained much traction in the Senate, when it was first proposed.
McConnell has placed the House-passed health bill, the American Health Care Act, back on the legislative calendar, which means the Senate could return to the bill this calendar year. But for now, it looks like Republican leadership is waving a white flag.