WASHINGTON >> U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy had been preparing for a long night of presenting amendments to the Republican “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, but it didn’t come to that.
It was a surprise “no” vote from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just before 2 a.m. Friday that killed the legislation, 51-49, and forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to shelve efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, at least for now.
Murphy and his fellow Democratic Connecticut senator, Richard Blumenthal, are now in wait-and-see mode, ready to negotiate the survival and improvement of Obamacare if McConnell and his majority caucus choose to go that route.
“There are groups of us who want to start working constructively,” Blumenthal said, still sleep-deprived after a virtual all-nighter on the Senate floor. “It won’t happen overnight. The process of legislating takes time. There should be hearings, committee markups and bill drafts.”
He said senators of both parties were particularly incensed over the way McConnell drafted iterations of the GOP bill in secret, with no hearings and limited opportunities to debate the merits back and forth.
“This is a victory for millions of Americans who spoke up, stood up and never gave up,” Blumenthal said. “And a lot of those people are in Connecticut.”
An underground conversation
In the wee hours after the vote, Murphy said he was “glad to have played a role” in the bill’s failure, but that he was not celebrating.
“We have an amazing opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to actually work together and keep what’s working in the Affordable Care Act and improve what’s not working,” he said. “I’m ready to sit down at the table to get a bipartisan, commonsense reform bill done.”
Murphy was sporting a week-old stubble that he called a “protest beard.” There was no indication of whether he now intends to shave.
If not cause for outright celebration, the demise of the “skinny repeal” provided Democrats with a sigh of relief — one Murphy may have experienced before others after he ran into McCain before anyone knew how the Arizona senator would vote.
“We walked underground to the Senate for the final vote,” Murphy tweeted after the vote. “Someday I’ll get to tell my grandkids what he said to me.”
McCain was the third Republican “no” vote after Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The three together were enough to defeat the GOP measure, with all 46 Democrats and two independents opposing the legislation.
‘Options and opportunities’
“Skinny repeal” was a bare-bones measure to end Obamacare’s mandate requiring individuals to have insurance and employers to provide it. McConnell resorted to it after previous attempts at legislating the downfall of Obamacare failed. The Republicans’ aim was to pass the bill and tie it to the GOP House bill that passed in May, and send the package to President Donald Trump’s desk.
Moderates of both parties in the House already are at work on a bipartisan solution, said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who is chairman of the New Democrat Coalition that represents moderate Democrats.
“At this point, the future is unclear, but that’s a good thing,” Himes said. “It means there are still options and opportunities for Congress to build on last night’s momentum in the coming months and take action that will benefit everyone. It’s time for real cooperation.”
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, struck a similar chord.
“It is now time for Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve the Affordable Care Act to bring down premiums and deductibles, reduce prescription drug prices, and increase competition in the marketplaces,” DeLauro said. “Making things better for all Americans should be first and foremost in everything we do.”
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5, who prides herself on working across the aisle, said: “It’s time for a bipartisan approach that’s focused on serving the American people, not on scoring political points. Let’s work together on ways to lower premiums and deductibles, reduce drug costs, and expand access to quality care. It’s what the American people deserve. The time has long passed for assigning blame.”