DENVER – In two procedural votes Tuesday, Colorado finally got a look at what cards U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is holding as Republicans push to repeal and possibly replace the Affordable Care Act.
Gardner voted for the motion to proceed to debate on the bills—something that in and of itself was a victory for Senate Republicans when it passed on a tiebreaking vote by the vice president. Previous Senate versions of the bill had failed to get enough votes to make it to the floor for discussion.
And later Tuesday, in another procedural vote, Gardner voted in favor of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) amendment, though it ultimately failed when nine Republicans voted against the motion. Among those voting for the bill, however, was Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who just hours earlier said he wouldn’t support the bill in the state it was in.
They needed 60 votes for the procedural vote, which would have waived the Budget Act—something that was necessary because amendments added onto the BCRA by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rob Portman of Ohio were never scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The bill is now essentially off the table.
But the CBO did score the BCRA before it was amended, and found 22 million more people would be uninsured in 2026 under the plan when compared to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The CBO estimated that Medicaid spending under that bill would be reduced by more than $700 billion in comparison to current spending projections under Obamacare.
And the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute estimated that the BCRA would cause 628,000 Coloradans would lose insurance by 2030, and would cause Colorado to lose more than $15 billion in federal funds by that year—something the institute said would have a negative impact on rural Colorado because those areas would “struggle with affordability.”
It also said that the Cruz amendment would likely leave older Americans and others without perfect health paying more.
In March, Gardner sent a letter—along with Portman, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (who voted no Tuesday)—telling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the House version of the bill didn’t adequately cover Medicaid recipients in states, like Colorado, that opted to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
One in five Coloradans are covered through Health First Colorado, the state’s Medicaid program.
And just a month ago, Gardner again voiced concerns about Medicaid protections in his most-recent interview with Denver7. He said he and Portman had their “own little working group on Medicaid” as they wrote the Senate’s bill.
“I’ve talked about my concerns over a Medicaid transition—that if they pursue a Medicaid transition where the states take over the Medicaid program, to make sure the states have the full functionality, flexibility that they need in a transition period that is long enough for them to do it seamlessly,” Gardner told Denver7 at the time.
But he and his staff haven’t talked much since then about where he hopes the bills go—instead focusing on another year of premium rate hike requests in Colorado and what he says is the “imploding” Obamacare.
Gardner is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is tasked with raising money and helping current and prospective Republican senatorial candidates hold or gain new seats, and has more pressure from leadership than some senators to adhere to their wishes.
He also spent much of his time in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate either pushing to repeal Obamacare, or voting to do so.
“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 both chambers passed in January 2016.
But Senate Republicans’ push isn’t over despite the small defeat Tuesday night. They will be back on the floor Wednesday morning to take up debate on other health care measures—including a repeal-now, replace-later bill similar to one Gardner and Senate Republicans passed to Obama’s desk in 2015. Another proposal floated by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina could also come up for debate in the amendment process.
Gardner said in a statement that followed the motion to proceed vote that he hoped to be involved in the amendment process.
“I voted to allow debate today because we can no longer subject Coloradans to a failing health care system without working toward solutions, and today’s vote will allow that debate to continue,“ Gardner said. “We can now offer amendments in an open setting to fix our nation’s healthcare system and bring relief to the American people.”
However, Gardner again offered no prospects of what he hoped for out of any of the remaining bills. Requests for comment as to specifics made to Gardner’s staff Monday and Tuesday haven’t been returned.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado voted no both times Tuesday, calling the Republicans' efforts "shameful."
"It's shameful that [Senate Republicans] just voted to take up unknown legislation that could harm millions of Coloradans and Americans," he said. “Whether Republicans choose to vote for repeal-and-replace or repeal-and-delay, we know both outcomes would be devastating for Colorado families, hospitals, and rural communities. The American people deserve better than this.”