For a while it appeared that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act might come down to Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s vote.
He was one of a handful of Republican senators who broke ranks to oppose an initial version of the GOP repeal and replace bill. And it was his late-night tweet with Utah Sen. Mike Lee that forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to later call off a scheduled vote on a revised version of the bill.
But when the critical moment arrived early Friday, it wasn’t Moran’s vote that made the difference. It was John McCain’s.
The veteran senator from Arizona joined two other Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — in voting against a last-gasp effort by GOP leaders to make good on their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
The so-called “skinny repeal” bill they proposed would have taken only parts of the ACA off the books. But its passage would have given House Republicans something they could have quickly agreed to and sent to President Donald Trump.
The pressure was on. Republican leaders said it was time for members to close ranks.
Moran did just that, casting one of the final votes for the bill around 2 a.m.
But McCain — who made a dramatic return to the Senate earlier in the week after being diagnosed with a brain tumor the week before — joined Collins, Murkowski and chamber’s 46 Democrats and two independents in voting “no.”
He then issued a statement calling on congressional leaders to convene hearings to work on a bipartisan solution.
“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” McCain said. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”
Moran has not yet issued a statement explaining his vote. But in an interview with the Kansas News Service earlier in the week, he agreed with McCain’s call for a bipartisan approach.
“Trying to do something with one party alone is a mistake,” Moran said. “I’ve called for all 100 senators to be involved in the process by which we repeal and replace or we fix the Affordable Care Act.”
Moran said he opposed earlier versions of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill because, in his judgment, they wouldn’t have done enough to slow rising health insurance costs or protect people with pre-existing conditions. He said he also was concerned that the Medicaid cuts called for in the bills would have jeopardized rural hospitals and nursing homes in Kansas.
Based on those concerns, Kansans opposed to repeal thought Moran might also oppose the final bill.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Health Kansas, a pro-ACA advocacy group. “Senator Moran now has the opportunity to reject this harmful bill, start an open process and do what is right for Kansans.”
Kansas’ other senator, Republican Pat Roberts, has not wavered in his support of GOP efforts to repeal the ACA.
“Obamacare continues to fail,” Roberts said late Thursday on Twitter as the voting began. “Republicans prefer repeal and replace. Dems claim to support single-payer but not one supported it today.”
Roberts was referring to a vote on a “single-payer” amendment offered by Republican Sen. Steve Daines, of Montana, in an effort to force Democrats up for re-election in 2018 to show their cards on the issue.
The amendment failed 0-57 with most Democrats voting “present.”
Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.