DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Tuesday that people were “spiking the football” after learning that Senate Republicans were again unable to bring a bill to the floor that would repeal Obamacare without an immediate replacement—a move leadership had pivoted to after their second version of a new health care bill failed Monday night.
The Republican from Colorado was notably displeased at the failure of the latest attempt to fulfill the party’s promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act during a news conference he held with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other top Republicans in Congress’ upper chamber.
“There are a lot of people out there today who seem to be spiking the football, trying to celebrate a moment that, for now, seems to leave the Affordable Care Act in place for today,” Gardner said.
Tuesday’s failure came after three Republican senators said they wouldn’t vote to bring McConnell’s full-repeal bill, which would have allowed Congress to come up with a replacement over the next two years, to the floor for discussion.
Their decisions not to support the effort came after four senators—including two who supported Tuesday’s move—defected from supporting the Republicans’ second bill in the Senate Monday night, forcing McConnell to push for the full repeal.
President Donald Trump also pushed hard Tuesday morning for a full repeal, though it failed just hours later. The president did not publicly discuss the contents or parameters of the health care bills since discussion first got underway.
President Trump said he was “disappointed” by the latest failures, and said it was time to “let Obamacare fail.”
“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail, Trump said. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it.”
His spokeswoman, Sarah H. Sanders, blamed Democrats for the bills’ failures.
But by later Tuesday afternoon, McConnell was saying there would be a vote to start debate on the full repeal amendment, which would be added to the House-passed version of the bill, early next week. He said he made the announcement "at the request of the president and vice president, and after consulting with our members."
Gardner's long history with repealing Obamacare
Gardner, who voted in the Senate in 2015 to repeal Obamacare and send the bill to President Barack Obama’s desk (Obama vetoed the bill), also spent much of his time in the U.S. House of Representatives pushing for an Obamacare repeal and voting for any repeal measures when they came up.
“I’m disappointed the president prioritized his personal legacy instead of recognizing that his law has failed the American people,” Gardner said when Obama vetoed the bill in January 2016.
McConnell’s latest attempt would have used language similar to that of the 2015 repeal bill Gardner and Senate Republicans passed.
But Gardner said on a radio program earlier this month, something that was first reported by Jason Salzman, that he opposed a plan that had been floated at the time by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., to repeal Obamacare and replace it at a later date—exactly what McConnell’s latest effort aimed for.
“I think that if you repeal it now, with nothing in its place, what happens if you don’t find that replacement? What happens if you don’t reach that agreement?” Gardner said on the program. “I think that we ought to move forward with an idea now, and put a solution forward to the American people.”
He went on to say: “Look, this is something that Republicans and Democrats ought to find common ground with, because if Democrats refuse to find a solution to a failing Obamacare, shame on them!”
Several of the Republicans who abandoned McConnell’s plan on Tuesday voted in favor of the 2015 repeal deal.
So on Tuesday, Gardner used the football analogy multiple times in his brief on-camera statement to reinforce his displeasure with the bills’ failures at the hands of a few of his Republican colleagues and all of his Democratic colleagues.
“That is spiking the football on the American people who will continue to pay more under the Affordable Care Act that is collapsing,” Gardner said.
He pointed to the premium rate hike requests made by insurance companies operating in Colorado, which were released by the state last week and showed that average premiums hike requests on the individual market were 27 percent across the state.
“But that’s if you’re lucky enough to live in the Front Range of Colorado. If you live in the Eastern Plains or the Western Slope, you’re going to pay 30 percent more, you’re going to pay 40 percent more,” Gardner said.
There are fewer plan options offered to people in rural Colorado generally, and fewer overall being offered next year statewide, but the state has yet to release county-by-county breakdowns of where the possible hikes might be felt hardest.
And though Gardner pointed to those rate hike requests, which have not yet been approved by the state, as reasons why people shouldn’t be celebrating, Colorado’s insurance commissioner last week blamed the Trump administration and Republicans’ efforts in Congress for causing instability in the insurance marketplace that led to the insurance companies making higher requests.
“It remains pivotal that the Trump administration stops using people’s access to health care as a bargaining chip and commits to funding the Cost-Sharing Reductions in 2018,” Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said at the time.
“These premium increases are not a surprise,” she continued. “I believe that the dubious situation at the federal level has contributed to the premium increase requests we’ve seen from the companies.”
But Gardner and his camp pressed on Tuesday afternoon in the aftermath of Republicans’ failures over the past two days, saying the majority party would still get something done in regards to its health care promises.
“We will continue our work to get our job done to make sure that the status quo no longer stands, and instead, we provide relief to the American people,” Gardner said to end his portion of the post-leadership lunch meeting news conference.
Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, said there were more meetings scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and evening to discuss what steps would come next.
When pressed further on what Gardner wanted to bring to those meetings policy-wise, questions to Gardner’s office went unreturned.
One of those meetings apparently resulted in McConnell renewing his push for a full repeal, with a vote planned for early next week, he said.
Hickenlooper, bipartisan governors continue push for reform
Among the first calls for a solution as to what comes next in the effort to either fix problems with the Affordable Care Act, or to replace it, came from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, along with 10 other governors from both parties.
“The Senate should immediately reject efforts to ‘repeal’ the current system and replace sometime later. This could leave millions of Americans without coverage. The best next step is for both parties to come together and do what we can all agree on: fix our unstable insurance markets,” the joint statement from Hickenlooper and the other governors said.
“Going forward, it is critically important that governors are brought to the table to provide input, and we stand ready to work with lawmakers in an open, bipartisan way to provide better insurance for all Americans.”
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, have led the effort on behalf of governors—primarily from states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—to get Congress to seek more input from governors and the states that will have to implement any changes to the nation’s health care system.
Colorado Democrats, Coffman continue push for bipartisanship
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., again Monday night called for bipartisanship moving forward in addressing flaws with the Affordable Care Act and a shaky insurance market.
“It’s now time for a bipartisan process that will lead to a bill that is actually responsive to Americans and fixes our health care system,” Bennet said. “Americans are speaking up, telling stories and demanding better solutions to fix our health care system. Don’t stop now. Your voices matter.”
On Tuesday, Bennet furthered his push for a bipartisan effort.
“It’s past time for a bipartisan approach that lowers costs and improves outcomes. Cutting taxes for special interests while slashing funds for Medicaid does literally nothing but make our challenges in health care worse," Bennet said in a statement. "We should turn our attention to competition, transparency, and affordability so that we can create a system that serves all Coloradans.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Coffman, the only Colorado Republican in the U.S. House to vote against the House version of the health care repeal and replacement, continued to tout a proposal he introduced last week that he says will be a “bipartisan” fix.
“Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Coffman said. “There are legitimate differences of opinion in our conference about how we accomplish that, but we need to bridge them and get this job done.”
His proposal, in short, offers three different changes to various parts of Obamacare he says will be a fix: use reconciliation to address the Medicaid expansion facet of Obamacare and repeal the individual and employer mandates; use reconciliation to reform Obamacare’s tax code, along with other tax reforms that Republicans have said they will work to fix this year; and work with both parties to fix the health care exchanges that people on both sides of the aisle have said are the key problem with Obamacare.
Coffman said Tuesday he believes the proposal would have “bipartisan support” and “help us deliver better care at lower costs for all Americans.”
He admitted last week that the plan was a “backup plan” that he wasn’t sure if either McConnell or House Speaker Paul Ryan would support should other efforts fail. Now, those efforts have.
Coffman’s fellow Republican House members from Colorado were mum Tuesday after the Senate’s efforts failed.
But Democrats jumped on the Republican efforts to repeal without a replacement.
“Repealing the Affordable Care Act would be a huge betrayal and create more chaos,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat who recently dropped out of the 2018 race for governor and said he wouldn’t run for reelection in Congress.
Rep. Diana DeGette said McConnell’s attempt to go for a straight repeal was “reckless and potentially devastating,” citing a January Congressional Budget Office report that showed that a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act without replacement would lead to 32 million fewer people having insurance by 2026—even more than would have lost insurance coverage under the House or Senate bills, according to the CBO.
She also pushed for more bipartisan efforts in Congress: “Americans want bipartisan reform that benefits all. We should seize this moment and do what's best for the health of our nation,” she said.
In Colorado, 600,000 people were set to lose insurance coverage by 2030 under the various Republican health care bills, according to the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute.
The CHI said last week that uncertainty about whether the cost-sharing reductions engrained in Obamacare would be axed in the Republican bills was leading to the uncertainty within the insurance marketplace and to the rising premium rate requests.
House Republicans have long opposed the cost-sharing reductions, something that analysts like CHI and the Kaiser Family Foundation say is now causing the market uncertainty—and have sued in the past over the CSRs, claiming Congress never authorized their funding.
Trump went on the record in 2012 on Twitter to discuss party responsibility: “Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years. He can never take responsibility.”