Republicans were unable to resolve existing differences about the healthcare bill after a Wednesday late-night meeting which ended with no deal, despite President Donald Trump’s demands that they keep trying. Party members also met with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price behind closed doors on Wednesday night to try to reach an agreement on a plan to undo former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature legislation, popularly known as Obamacare, according to Reuters. The meetings were part of an abrupt shift in strategy by Trump, who is threatening to keep lawmakers in Washington during their August recess if they don’t reach an agreement on health care after the CBO said a straight repeal of Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured by 32 million by 2026, while doubling insurance premiums in 10 years (it was unclear how much higher premiums would rise if Obamacare remains). Additionally, the CBO predicts that the bill would increase insurance premiums, with the average premium increasing by about 25% in 2018 alone. Previously, Trump said he was ready to “let Obamacare fail” and then work with Democrats on a new system after the old one collapses.
# Earlier, Trump had gathered 49 Republican senators for a White House lunch to try to smooth over growing dissent from a handful of the party's conservatives and moderates. He ended up castigating them for failing to agree on how to dismantle Obamacare. However, according to Reuters, conservative and moderate lawmakers are nowhere near a compromise on how to replace Obamacare.
"We still have some issues that divide us," said Senator Ted Cruz, a conservative who has proposed letting insurers offer cheaper bare-bones plans that do not comply with Obamacare regulations.
Republicans attending the late meeting sent their staff away to talk frankly with reporters. Senator John Kennedy said everyone was negotiating in good faith but he added he did not know if they would reach agreement. Almost all the other senators rushed off after the meeting without comment.
Sen. John McCain, who was recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, was of course absent, adding to Trump's challenges as he needs every healthcare vote he can get.
“As it was getting underway, the nearly two dozen Republican senators were shaken by news that their colleague, veteran Senator John McCain, had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
McCain's absence from the Senate makes the job of passing a healthcare bill more difficult because leaders need every Republican vote they can get.”
Democrats were swift to highlight the CBO's assessment, while Republicans remained silent.
"President Trump and Republicans have repeatedly promised to lower premiums and increase coverage, yet each proposal they offer would do the opposite," Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said in a statement.
Insurers and hospitals lobbied against a repeal, saying the limbo would increase uncertainty and their costs.
"CBO projects half the country would have no insurers in the individual market by 2020 under the new repeal bill. That's a true death spiral," tweeted Larry Levitt, at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare research group.
# As discussed on Monday, moderate Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Shelley Moore Capito said they oppose McConnell's plan for a repeal that would take effect in two years, thus dooming the idea. All three attended the lunch with Trump. With Democrats united in opposition to repeal, McConnell can only lose two votes from the Republicans' 52-48 majority in the 100-seat Senate to pass the legislation.
Party fractures also emerged in the House of Representatives. The chamber passed a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in May, but on Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican Party's conservative wing, filed a petition to vote on a straight repeal.
"The House passed an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill we are proud of and we hope the Senate will take similar action," said House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokeswoman, AshLee Strong,
Meanwhile, opponents of repeal protested throughout Senate buildings on Wednesday afternoon, leading to 155 arrests, police said. Demonstrators returned in the evening to yell as senators arrived for the meeting. That may not be necessary: the Trump administration is running out of options - it can't gather the votes for straight repeal, and every new proposal is either eviscerated by the conservatives, or the moderates. Unless Republicans can devise the mother of all compromise bills, it's going to be a very boring August....