McConnell needs to pick up support from both ends of the ideological spectrum. He can afford only two Republican defections, and at least 10 of his members had come out against the first version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act before McConnell abandoned plans to bring it up for a vote last month. Two of those critics, Senator Susan Collins of Maine in the center and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on the right, appear to have hardened in their opposition this week. Collins said it would take “a complete overhaul” to win her support, and Paul has gone on a media tour to rail against the revised proposal, saying that based on what he had heard, it was even worse than the original because it repealed less of Obamacare and included a bigger “bailout” for insurers.
Within hours after the revised draft’s release, both Paul and Collins reiterated their opposition to it and said they would vote against even bringing it up for debate. As on the final vote, McConnell needs at least 50 Republicans to sign off on the procedural motion, and with Paul and Collins apparently out, he needs every other member of his conference to agree.
In a speech on the Senate floor after unveiling the bill to Republicans, McConnell pleaded with his colleagues to allow it at least to come up for debate. “I hope every senator will vote to open debate. Because that’s how you change the status quo,” he said. “This is our opportunity to really make a difference on health care. This is our chance to bring about changes we’ve been talking about since Obamacare was forced on the American people. It’s our time to finally build the bridge away from Obamacare’s failures and deliver relief to those who need it.”
While McConnell picked quick support from several party loyalists, most of the holdouts on the original draft remained undecided. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said they would review the bill, as did Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, a sharp critic initially who is under intense pressure in the run-up to a reelection campaign next year. In an ominous sign for McConnell, however, Capito said in a statement she still had “serious concerns” about the proposal.
McConnell all but ignored complaints from moderates to soften the bill’s deepest and most contentious cuts—a $772 billion reduction in Medicaid spending over a decade, with hundreds of billions in additional cuts in the 10 years after that. The cuts, which include a four-year phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and a change in the program’s growth rate, would not begin until 2020. According to the Washington Post, McConnell told moderates to support the bill with those cuts included because they would never go into effect.
Though rather cynical, it’s an assumption held by some in Washington based on the likelihood that Democrats will win control of the House in 2018 or the presidency in 2020 and work with Republicans to put off the Medicaid cuts.