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Senate blocks GOP health bill, affecting Obamacare repeal

2017-05-23T143704Z_1034121160_RC1FD711D6C0_RTRMADP_3_USA-INTELLIGENCE.JPG
Republican Senator John McCain joined with two of his GOP colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday, throwing into doubt the party's months-long effort to pass a health bill.

[WASHINGTON] Republican Senator John McCain joined with two of his GOP colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday, throwing into doubt the party's months-long effort to pass a health bill.

The decision by Mr McCain came after weeks of brinkmanship and after a dramatic entrance to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill earlier this week by the cancer-stricken senior senator. The GOP's 'skinny' repeal bill was defeated 49-51, falling just short of the 50 votes needed to advance it. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski also voted against it.

Ms Collins voted no first, then MsMurkowski, followed by Mr McCain, who came to the well of the Senate and gave a thumbs down, dooming the repeal bill to loud gasps, mostly from the Democratic side of the aisle. Republican leaders stood together looking grim as their back-up repeal plan appeared to collapse.

It wasn't immediately clear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would seek to try again with yet another version or abandon the effort. The Senate is scheduled to be in session into mid-August.  But Mr McConnell has struggled to find a compromise that satisfies conservatives, who have demanded a wholesale repeal of Obamacare, and moderates, who have been unnerved by predictions the bill would significantly boost the ranks of uninsured Americans.

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Earlier, several other Republican said they would only vote to advance the measure after getting assurances from House Speaker Paul Ryan that his chamber would start a conference negotiation and not simply pass it.

Mr McConnell released the long-awaited text of his so-called skinny repeal bill late Thursday. It would end the requirement that individuals buy health insurance, and suspend through 2026 the requirement that companies provide it for their workers.

It would also extend a moratorium on the tax on medical-device makers through 2020 and increases the amount that individuals can contribute to health-savings accounts. The measure would also defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

The Congressional Budget Office said late Thursday that the bill would result in an additional 15 million Americans without health insurance next year. It also said the measure would reduce the federal deficit by US$178.8 billion over a decade.

The defeat of the "skinny" repeal bill came after several other measure put forward by GOP leaders were also blocked.  The Senate rejected a fuller repeal of Obamacare 45-55 Wednesday. Seven Republicans voted against it, including Senate Health Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and McCain. Late Tuesday, a 43-57 Senate vote swept aside a revised version of McConnell's Obamacare replacement, a measure negotiated in secret during weeks of tense GOP talks.

Republicans had said late Thursday their plan was to get the "skinny" bill through the Senate and then negotiate with the House on a broader agreement to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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