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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and fellow Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas said Monday night that they would oppose the GOP health care bill, changing Senate Republicans' focus from replacing Obamacare to repealing it.
Lee's announcement, timed with Moran's, left Republicans without support they already were scrambling to muster in the chamber that the GOP controls by a two-vote margin. Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Susan Collins had already said they opposed the bill. In indicating that he wouldn't support the bill, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said moderate GOP senators "basically confirmed" to him that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., assured them last week that Medicaid cuts planned by the legislation would "never happen" because they would be too far in the future.
"After conferring with trusted experts regarding the latest version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment," Lee said in a news release, "I have decided I cannot support the current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act."
In response, McConnell said he will push the Senate to pass a repeal bill instead.
"Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," McConnell said.
In the coming days, McConnell said, the Senate will consider the House-passed bill, with the first order of business a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay. He is not saying when the vote will occur.
Senate GOP leaders had included a provision to the bill pushed by Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow a health insurer to offer a bare-bones plan a less costly option aimed at younger Americans as long as they also offered policies that included the coverage requirements and consumer protections included in the Affordable Care Act. The inclusion didn't go far enough for Lee.
"In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations," Lee said in the release.
My colleague @JerryMoran and I will not support the MTP to this version of BCRA #HealthcareBill— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) July 18, 2017
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, criticized Lee's stance.
"We are all clear on the consequences should we fail to act: Obamacare enshrined and eventually single-payer and socialized medicine, which will bankrupt America.
"We have promised to do better, and no Republican concern should ever be enough to filibuster our own bill."
Hatch has supported the bill, which was set to be voted on this week until it was postponed because of Sen. John McCain's eye surgery. The Arizona Republican is recovering from that surgery.
Later Monday, President Donald Trump urged Congress to push through a measure ending his predecessor's signature health law.
"Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate," Trump tweeted. "Dems will join in!"
Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2017
Lee tweeted again, saying Americans and their president "deserve a real repeal bill."
The American people and @realdonaldtrump deserve a real repeal bill. We'll keep fighting until we get one.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) July 18, 2017
The House passed its own version of the bill to gut Obamacare and replace it with a GOP plan, but the Senate refused to take it up, offering its own legislation that the Congressional Budget Office said, in its latest count, could cost 22 million Americans health insurance coverage by 2026.
All 46 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with them, are expected to oppose the bill.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Monday night that this "second failure" of the GOP effort to kill Obamacare is proof that the "core of this bill is unworkable."
"Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system," Schumer said.
Lee's opposition to the GOP bill came hours after Trump had promised Americans, "We're going to get that done. And I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
The Associated Press contributed to this story