With GOP repeal push stalled, what’s next?

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WASHINGTON — With control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, Republicans’ first major legislative push of the Trump presidency has imploded.

Now what?

Before, the dividing lines were clear: Sen. Pat Toomey, the Philadelphia region’s lone Republican, was one of the leading voices in favor of the GOP push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, while the area’s Democrats were steadfastly opposed.

Now, Republicans are groping for a way forward and Democrats may have to decide whether and how to cooperate on bipartisan fixes for a law that has sharply divided the parties for years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) wants one last Hail Mary. On the Senate floor Tuesday morning he announced plans for a vote to repeal the law commonly called “Obamacare,” without a replacement.

He said the repeal would be delayed for two years, to give lawmakers time to work on a replacement.

That’s an idea Toomey downplayed just a couple weeks ago.

“I don’t think the votes are there to do that,” he said when asked about the possibility at a July 5 question and answer session with voters. “I think as long as we stabilize the insurance market, that would be a feasible option. What we can’t do is leave anybody stranded, what we can’t do is pull the rug out from under anyone.”

However, that was when the GOP had an alternative bill. Now, with so-called repeal and delay looking like GOP leadership’s last long-shot hope, Toomey suggested Tuesday morning that he might support that move “because it allows us to start the process,” according to NBC News.

The idea is being pushed by President Trump, who is eager for a victory on one of his party’s signature promises.

The plan, though, faces steep odds. Procedurally, divided Senate Republicans would first have to agree to vote to begin debate on the unpopular House repeal bill, which would open the door to an unpredictable amendment process whose outcome would be hugely uncertain for all sides of the debate.

Internal Republican opposition was already mounting early Monday.

Other Republicans and some Democrats are pushing for another route: a bipartisan bill that would make less drastic fixes to the existing law.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), wrote on Twitter that Democrats would be open to “common sense” improvements if the GOP “abandons repeal, cuts to Medicaid & tax giveaways for the wealthy.”

He has made that argument for some time now. As Casey faces reelection next year, the true test may now arrive if Republicans do show a willingness to deal. What would he be willing to agree to in that event?

Casey has not so far been involved in behind the scenes talks between some Republicans and Democrats. He has argued that repeal has to be off the table first.

Toomey also said last week he was not part of the bipartisan conversations, since he was focused on the GOP’s initial bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

Though that plan has been defeated, some local Democrats remained wary.

“President Trump and Congressional Republicans must once and for all abandon their efforts to repeal and sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Until they do, we’re not out of the woods,” Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said in a statement.

Democrats warned that a repeal alone would leave 32 million people uninsured, citing previous estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

Other Republicans are calling for a bipartisan approach.

“The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care,” Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said in a statement Monday night.

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