Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell late Saturday said he will postpone votes on the Obamacare replacement bill that was scheduled to hit the floor this week, after Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he needed time to recover from surgery for a blood cot, depriving the GOP of a critical vote.
"There are few people tougher than my friend John McCain, and I know he'll be back with us soon," Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said. "While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act."
Mr. McConnell is trying to gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act under budget rules that allow the GOP to avoid a filibuster. With Democrats unanimously opposed, Mr. McConnell cannot afford more than two defections from his 52-seat majority to even take up the bill.
Two Senate Republicans - Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine -had said they would oppose a motion to proceed onto the bill, so Mr. McCain's absence effectively forced leadership to acknowledge an insurmountable deficit of support.
The delay could blunt any momentum GOP leaders had built for the plan, while giving the bill's vocal opponents more time to rally governors and other skeptics against it.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCain's office said the senator is doing well.
"Senator McCain received excellent treatment at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, and appreciates the tremendous professionalism and care by its doctors and staff," it said. "He is in good spirits and recovering comfortably at home with his family. On the advice of his doctors, Senator McCain will be recovering in Arizona next week."
President Trump is anxiously awaiting Senate Republicans to follow through on their seven-year push to scrap Obamacare, yet a revised plan released Thursday was already hanging by a thread.
Besides the two on-record defections, several moderates have complained about parts of the plan that would significantly curtail spending on the Medicaid program for the poor and allow customers to opt for plans that don't comply with Obamacare's coverage requirements.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, says the latter provision is the best way to help healthier consumers pay less for coverage they want. His measure would require insurers to still offer at least some plans that comply with Obamacare's benefit and pricing strictures.
Yet the country's top insurers' lobbying group, America's Health Insurance Plans, lambasted the Cruz proposal in a statement late Friday, saying it is "simply unworkable in any form" because insurers need young and healthy customers to buy the more expensive plans on Obamacare's exchanges in order to subsidize the costs for older, sicker customers.
"As healthy people move to the less-regulated plans, those with significant medical needs will have no choice but to stay in the comprehensive plans, and premiums will skyrocket for people with preexisting conditions," AHIP said in a letter to Senate leaders.
It said middle-income families that do not qualify for taxpayer assistance under the GOP replacement plan would be hit especially hard by the changes.