The latest Republican attempt to overhaul Obamacare was killed off by internal dissenters on Monday night, dealing another blow to party leaders struggling to fulfil one of Donald Trump’s signature campaign pledges.
Two more conservative senators said they would oppose the latest Republican healthcare bill, leaving leaders short of the votes needed to pass it and facing the risk of heading home for an August break without any big legislative wins.
Mr Trump has already expressed frustration at the Senate’s faltering efforts and a decisive failure would threaten to embarrass the president and open up a serious rift between the White House and congressional Republicans.
The addition of two more opponents to two who declared their stances last week leaves Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, with four weeks to come up with a new bill that can unite his party before the summer break.
The Republican party has been on a seven year quest to repeal Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms — one Mr Trump joined in his campaign — but its seizure of power in Washington has exposed sharp internal divisions over how to achieve its goal.
Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, the two Senate dissenters, criticised Mr McConnell’s latest bill for not going far enough to dismantle Obamacare, which enabled 20m Americans to gain access to health insurance.
Referring to Mr McConnell’s approach, Mr Moran said: “This closed-door process has yielded [a bill], which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one.”
Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate, said: “I am delighted to see that the disastrous Republican healthcare plan will not succeed.
“The American people want to proceed to healthcare for all, not see 22m Americans thrown off of the healthcare they currently have,” he went on, referring to an estimate of the bill’s impact from the Congressional Budget Office.
Republicans’ handling of healthcare reform has helped to push Mr Trump’s approval rating down to 36 per cent, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The bill’s demise came 48 hours after Republicans appeared to gain some respite, as news that Senator John McCain would be absent from Washington following surgery gave both proponents and opponents an excuse to temporarily stand down.
The opponents are split into two groups, comprising conservatives who want to shrink the role of government and moderates worried about people losing health insurance due to proposed cuts to Medicaid, a programme for the poor.
Mr Lee, a conservative, said: “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, [the bill] 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.”