DENVER – In the wake of the failure of Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act early Friday, Colorado’s lawmakers and governor said they weren’t ready to give up on fixing issues with the nation’s health care system that both parties have acknowledged need to be addressed.
While Democrats were pleased that the “skinny repeal” bill Republicans threw together Friday in an effort to get to conference committee discussions with the House failed in a narrow 49-51 vote, they said there was still work to be done going forward.
The sentiment was shared by the Colorado Republicans who commented on the bill’s failure, though how much each party is willing to work with the other going forward remains up in the air.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., voted for the “skinny repeal,” the Health Care Freedom Act, while Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., voted against it. Gardner had voted in favor of every amendment to the House’s health care bill that the Senate voted on this week, and added to that tally the last-ditch effort to push the HCFA as a replacement. Bennet voted against each amendment, and also voted against taking health care discussion to the floor in the first place.
Three Republican senators—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona—ended up casting the deciding votes that killed the seven-year effort by the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Their votes came in a dramatic scene early in the morning in Washington D.C. Democrats had one hour to talk about the bill after receiving it, and less time to talk when the Congressional Budget Office released its score of the bill. The CBO noted that premiums would rise by 20 percent every year through 2026 and 16 million would lose insurance in comparison to current law under the “skinny repeal” bill—something the CBO would be caused by people dropping out of the marketplace because the individual mandate would have been repealed.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., then spent the final hour before the vote filibustering Democrats who were trying to ask him questions about the bill and CBO score.
After a failed motion from Democrats to send the bill back to committee, Republican senators held the vote open as they tried last-second efforts to flip McCain and Murkowski on the Senate floor. Vice President Mike Pence, who was there to break a possible tie on the vote, talked to McCain for nearly 20 minutes, and even put him on the phone with President Donald Trump.
But in the end, McCain dramatically gave the “thumbs down” after Murkowski had already voted against the bill—sealing its fate.
Afterward, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell said it was “time to move on” from health care form the time being, but said that Obamacare wasn’t fixed and problems Republicans have with the law will persist.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that he and his party weren’t celebrating, but relieved, rather, that Republicans hadn’t passed the skinny bill. He acknowledged there were indeed problems with Obamacare that needed fixing, and committed his party to working across the aisle in the future.
Shortly afterward, Bennet said as much in a statement—though he’s said he wanted a bipartisan solution for months now.
“While this is a win for tonight, we cannot be complacent. There are millions of people who still need us to fix our broken health care system,” Bennet said. “Now is the time to work together to increase competition, affordability, and transparency; to lower costs and improve quality; and to craft a bill that is responsive to the needs of Americans.”
And Friday, he praised McCain, Murkowski and Collins for their votes, which came days after McCain made an impassioned plea for a return to order in the Senate.
“As a father, I’m grateful for the example Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Collins set for my daughters. Thanks for standing strong throughout,” he tweeted Friday afternoon, which he followed up with by tweeting his support for McCain: “Grateful to Sen. John McCain for his vote last night and his call for a bipartisan process."
His sentiments were echoed Friday by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has been part of a highly-visible panel of bipartisan governors, led by Ohio Republican John Kasich, that has been pushing to be part of bipartisan discussions on health care for months.
“We are encouraged that the Senate has rejected efforts that would have raised health care costs, limited health care coverage, and hurt hundreds of thousands of Coloradans,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and deliver specific plans that will improve our health insurance system by lowering costs and providing stability for the marketplace. As governors, we are on the front lines of this debate. We must move forward in a transparent, collaborative, bipartisan manner to address problems we can all agree need fixing.”
While there is a heavy on health care reform at the national level, there is a big burden on states as well, Hickenlooper’s lieutenant governor, Donna Lynne, said Friday.
“We currently are out to bid for our Medicaid program and are looking at more creative ways to manage it,” said Lynne. “We’re asking the private sector to take some risk in this, because there will be an opportunity for the state to control costs and for you to continue to serve us.”
Colorado’s members of Congress also espoused hope for a constructive approach to health care discussions in the future.
“With its overnight defeat in the Senate, the Republican effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act has reached a road block. However, the path toward improving the ACA is not at an end. Bipartisan solutions must be found,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. “I continue to reach out to my colleagues across the aisle to work on those improvements. Maybe now they're ready to do so; Americans certainly are, and they've shown it with their vocal outcry against every version of Trumpcare this year. Polls show most Americans think the parties should mend the ACA, not end it."
Rep. Doug Lamborn, who supported the House’s American Health Care Act when it passed in early May, also continued to call for a quest to find solutions to some of the issues Obamacare has—like rising premiums.
“Obamacare won’t fix itself and will only get worse. I remain committed to finding meaningful solutions that will improve our health care system and bring medical and insurance costs down for all Americans,” Lamborn said, adding that “the status quo is unacceptable and we should not give up.”
But he said he was “disappointed” the Senate “failed in its efforts to repeal portions of Obamacare.” He said the so-called skinny repeal was “incomplete,” but had several facets to it that he supported, including the repeal of the individual mandate and defunding of Planned Parenthood.
“We made a promise to the American people that we would fix these problems,” Lamborn said.
Though Gardner helped craft the Senate’s initial bill, he had mostly been mum on whether he would support it or other measures offered in recent weeks.
He has won much favor in Colorado—and often criticism—over his continuous support of Obamacare-repeal measures while in the House of Representatives and Senate.
He was successful in both chambers in passing repeal measures, though none ever made it past the president’s desk. The closest Republicans have been to repealing the health care law was in 2015, when both the House and Gardner’s Senate voted to send a repeal bill to Obama’s desk, though he vetoed it.
Several requests for comment on the health care bills made to Gardner’s staff this week by this reporter weren't returned. Another Friday request hadn’t been returned either.
His staff did send out a news release about North Korea’s Friday missile launch, and he was quoted in a release from Bennet’s team in an announcement about a USDA grant to Colorado State University regarding potato pathogen treatments.
But after this story was first published, Gardner sent a statement to another Denver7 reporter, saying he was "disappointed" the Senate GOP's efforts failed, and said he's "always urged Democrats to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner" regarding health care. Here's his full statement:
“It’s frustrating that now the recent repeal and replace vote is over we are starting to finally hear supporters of the Affordable Care Act make some of the exact points about the problems with the Affordable Care Act that they attacked Republicans for making over the last few months. We are finally starting to hear those that refused to work with Republicans admit that costs are going up under this law and something needs to be done to address it.
“I’ve worked so hard to replace this government takeover of our healthcare for one reason and one reason only – my constituents. In Colorado right now the impact of the law includes skyrocketing premiums, 145,000 Coloradans being forced to pay a fine to the IRS because they couldn’t afford the insurance plans offered, and a health insurance market that leaves Coloradans living in two-thirds of counties in our state with two or fewer insurers to choose from.
“The vote last night can’t stop this effort. I’ve always urged Democrats to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to find solutions that drives down costs and stabilizes the insurance market. I’m not going to stop trying to fix this healthcare problem, the status quo is unacceptable.“
It’s unclear exactly what the next steps for health care and the Affordable Care Act will be. Colorado is in the midst of a public comment period regarding premium rate hike requests for next year made by insurers operating in Colorado. The state is expected to finalize the rate hikes by later this summer, but the average request amounted to a 27 percent increase across all plans and companies.
Meanwhile, the Senate has adjourned until next week, when they will work on getting administration nominees confirmed and are expected to take up work on the National Defense Authorization Act.