AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Republicans' struggle to repeal the Affordable Care Act is over at least for this year. Senate Republicans now say they will not vote this week on their latest proposal to dismantle Obamacare. The bill was sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, and it was the party's last hope ahead of a September 30 deadline. That's when Senate rules change, and Republicans will need more than 50 votes to pass health care legislation.
Now Republicans will turn their attention to tax legislation. To explain what happens next on health care, NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So Senate Republicans have tried and failed to pass four different proposals to end Obamacare. And yet one of the sponsors of this bill, Senator Lindsey Graham, says they are going to try again next year. How does he see that happening?
DAVIS: So Graham's argument is not that their bill failed on the policy. It's that it failed on the process. He simply just didn't have enough time to get the votes ahead of that September 30 deadline. So his plan now is, he says, while Republicans pivot the rest of the year to tax legislation, he and Senator Cassidy and the White House are going to keep pushing the case for their bill. Not only does he want to try again next spring. Today he made the promise that it will pass in this Congress. Here's what he had to say.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: We're going to get there. To my Republican colleagues, we're going to fulfill our promise to repeal and replace. To the American people, we're going to improve health care for you 'cause at the end of the day, that's the only promise that matters.
DAVIS: You know, of course this fight does not get easier next year when it's an election year.
DAVIS: I think despite that rosy outlook, the bottom line is, for Republicans today - was a bad day and potentially the last day of their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
CHANG: OK, now, Congress may still need to act on health care legislation this year to stabilize the insurance market. And there had been a bipartisan effort underway before Republicans made this last-ditch push for the Graham-Cassidy bill. Where does that bipartisan effort stand?
DAVIS: That effort was being led by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington. They were making progress, but those negotiations essentially stalled when they tried to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill. Murray today told reporters she wants to reignite those negotiations.
But the policy here isn't as much the problem as the politics. For a lot of Republicans to go immediately from trying to repeal Obamacare to an effort that essentially says that Obamacare is the law of the land is just not a vote that a lot of Republicans are interested in taking right now.
CHANG: Right. President Trump has after past health care failures privately and publicly criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Do Senate Republicans feel the same way about McConnell?
DAVIS: The short answer is no. It's obvious that the president does not have a great relationship with Mitch McConnell.
DAVIS: That might get even worse today depending on what happens in an Alabama Senate race where McConnell and the president have endorsed a candidate, Senator Luther Strange, who might lose. I asked another senator, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, about how Republicans feel about Mitch McConnell. This is what he said.
JOHN KENNEDY: No, this isn't Mitch's fault. This is the - the fault we got here is we've got too many people running around like a bunch of free-range chickens. That's the fault here. It's not Mitch's fault. This is the Senate. Every senator's an island unto himself or herself.
DAVIS: And the math is that of those 51 islands - those being his Republican colleagues - they all have the support behind Mitch McConnell.
CHANG: That's NPR's Sue Davis. Thanks, Sue.
DAVIS: You bet.
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