Following the defeat of an Affordable Care Act repeal bill in the Senate, several GOP lawmakers have proposed reaching across the aisle and work with their Democratic colleagues to reform the health care system. Meanwhile, several Republicans have expressed skepticism that they can work with Democrats, as they want to bolster the ACA rather than repeal the law outright.
On July 28, the GOP effort to repeal the ACA, commonly called "Obamacare," met a devastating setback when three Senate Republicans voted against a so-called "skinny repeal" bill, which was considered the last-ditch effort to advance an ACA repeal plan through the chamber. The inability to advance the skinny repeal will derail Republican efforts to repeal the Obama administration's health care law for the foreseeable future.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all voted against the ACA repeal plan. The skinny repeal would have eliminated the individual mandate and suspended the employer mandate. The legislation would have also suspended a medical device tax and defunded Planned Parenthood for up to a year, according to The Daily Beast.
The Senate Majority Leader, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, needed at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the skinny repeal in order to advance it to the House or submit it to conference. Collins and Murkowski had been firmly against the bill, citing a Congressional Budget estimate that it would result in 16 million fewer Americans having access to insurance by 2026. McCain's vote against the bill came as a surprise to his GOP colleagues.
Republicans had previously attempted to pass an ACA repeal through budget reconciliation, which had effectively eliminated the need for Democratic support to advance legislation. After it became clear that Senate Republicans would be unable to pass legislation through budget reconciliation, several GOP lawmakers signaled an interest in working with Democrats.
"I think we should sit down with an open mind and listen to them," Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told MSNBC. "Let's see what your fixes are."
McCain released a statement urging McConnell to abandon the budget reconciliation procedure and to work with Democrats on health care, The Hill reports.
"I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to trust each other, stop the political gamesmanship, and put the health care needs of the American people first," McCain said. "We can do this."
The Arizona senator added "It is now time to return to regular order with input from all of our members -- Republicans and Democrats -- and bring a bill to the floor of the Senate for amendment and debate."
Some Republican lawmakers were skeptical. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asserted that Democrats would not be receptive to repealing the ACA and had no ideas for how to improve the law.
"I have heard no indication from even a single Democrat that they are willing to change," Cruz said.
"I'm always open to working with Democrats, but the problem is they tell us they want to fix Obamacare -- but I haven't seen a fix," Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma told NBC News.
The Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, has stated that his party is open to working with Republicans to bolster the ACA but would not help uproot it entirely.
"Nobody has said Obamacare is perfect," Schumer said. "Nobody has said our health care system doesn't need fixing. The problem was, when they tried to just pull the rug out from under the existing health care system."
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota revealed that he and several of his Republican colleagues had already been communicating with Democrats about potential cooperation on health care.
"We've tried to stay in touch through this time," Rounds said. "We're trying to find common ground about where we go after this, because one way or another, regardless of if we were successful or they were successful, we wanted to find a bipartisan approach to get things moving in the future."