McConnell: If Senate healthcare bill fails, Republicans may have to repair ACA exchanges

The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
When Senate Republicans return to work next week, they will be once again be facing the tough task of achieving consensus on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

If Republicans can’t agree on a bill that repeals and replaces the Affordable Care Act, they may have to focus instead on shoring up the current law’s individual marketplaces, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.

During a Rotary Club lunch in Glasgow, Kentucky, Sen. McConnell was asked if he might need bipartisan cooperation in order to replace the ACA, the Associated Press reports.

Mitch McConnell
Sen. Mitch McConnell
(Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell answered, adding, “We've got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

The comments show that even Senate GOP leadership is worried that the party could fall short in its bid to pass the Better Care Reconciliation Act when lawmakers return from recess next week. McConnell has already been forced to delay a vote on the bill when it became clear the GOP wouldn’t have enough votes to pass the measure.

Now, the list of Republicans who have said they will oppose the bill is growing, with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., telling his constituents this week that he “doesn’t support the bill as it stands,” according to the Bismarck Tribune.

McConnell has shown signs he is seriously considering a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would help him win over conservatives, but such a move could also cost him needed votes from GOP moderates.

To Democrats, McConnell’s comments were a sign that he would be willing to include them at last in healthcare policymaking. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement to the AP that he’s encouraged by the fact that McConnell “opened the door to bipartisan solutions.”

Republicans in the Senate would likely need to reach across the aisle if they want to pass legislation aimed at stabilizing the marketplaces, as they have only a slim majority of 52 senators, and a measure that doesn't use the budget reconciliation process would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Yet while McConnell may be warming to bipartisan solutions if his bill doesn’t pass, President Donald Trump has offered up a different Plan B—repeal the ACA first, then replace it later. At least two other Republican senators, Rand Paul and Ben Sasse, have said they’d support such a strategy.