After Obamacare repeal falters, Vermont officials call for bipartisanship

Congress late Thursday evening, as the Senate convened into the night. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
WASHINGTON — As the dust settled after a failed, early-morning effort led by Senate Republicans to derail Obamacare, Vermont officials doubled down on calls for bipartisanship.

Top Vermont officials across the political spectrum, including Gov. Phil Scott, have consistently opposed proposals in Congress this year to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

This week, Senate efforts to change the health care law seemed poised to advance, after a key vote went forward to begin what would be a 20-hour debate on the issue.

But in a moment of high drama in the wee hours Friday morning, three Republicans, including an ailing Sen. John McCain, broke ranks to vote against a bare bones repeal proposal that had been unveiled just hours earlier.

Speaking to reporters at the Burlington airport early Friday afternoon, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he has been speaking to other Senate members about working collaboratively to improve the health care law.

“Why don’t we go back and find what works the most, strengthen it,” Leahy said. “There are parts that do not work, and change it.”

When asked about Sen. McCain’s return to the Senate, Leahy became emotional. The Arizona Republican returned to Washington this week after learning last week that he has brain cancer. McCain’s “no” vote Friday morning defeated the final repeal effort of the week.

Leahy, who said he has been a friends with McCain for some time, hugged McCain on the Senate floor and said he could feel that he had lost weight. As McCain delivered a speech on the floor Tuesday afternoon, Leahy thought to himself it was like “a farewell speech.”

Leahy said he hopes McCain would inspire others in the Senate to resume a more bipartisan approach.

“He’s a good man, and I’m hoping that some people on both sides of the aisle, say, ‘let’s be grown ups,’” Leahy said.

Leahy was optimistic that Congress could turn to the traditional committee process for legislation.

“The Senate should be the conscience of the nation,” Leahy said. “I wouldn’t have come back there this year if I didn’t think it could be better.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said Friday the early morning vote was “a relief.”

“That bill was bad and would have only gotten worse,” he said.

However, Welch does not view the debate as over.

“It’s not a time for celebration,” he said. “It’s a time to start rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work of improving the health care system.”

As the health care debate has escalated in the Senate in recent weeks, Welch has sought to rally a group of Democrats in the House to try to encourage bipartisan collaboration.

Early this week, Welch and 88 other House Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., in an effort to try to work with the majority party to improve the individual insurance market.

Welch said he believes there is an appetite for bipartisan work on health care among members of Congress, however he is “not sure it’s there at the leadership level.”

Now, he said, the biggest challenge to the health care law may be from the executive branch. The Trump administration has “a lot of capacity to damage the Affordable Care Act” outside of the legislative process, he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did not respond to a request for comment on the health care vote.

Gov. Phil Scott, who has twice in recent weeks joined a bipartisan group of governors to urge the Senate to slow down on Obamacare repeal efforts, said Friday be believes the Senate “did the right thing.”

Scott said he believes that there still should be health care reforms. However, he said, there should be more collaboration across the aisle.

“Congress shouldn’t repeat the mistake of forcing a party line vote on the ACA,” Scott said. “They should take the time to work together, including listening to Governors, and get it right.”

Going forward, he sees a need to address growing costs of healthcare, which he said have made Obamacare “unsustainable” for state and federal budgets.

Vermont Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille said Friday he anticipates more discussion ahead on health care at the federal level.

“I don’t think this conversation’s over,” Gobeille said. “Now the question is where does it go from here, and I don’t think anyone knows right now.”

The uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act is challenging when it comes to managing Medicaid at a state level, he said. It is difficult to plan several years out into the future when it is not clear that the federal government will be a willing partner in the program, he said.

If the executive branch tries to change the health care law through rulemaking or other non-legislative approaches, then “it could be tough,” Gobeille said.

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  • Peter Everett

    Vermont officials want bipartisanship? Since when? The senior Senator has the reputation as, perhaps, the most partisan member of the Senate. The Jr Senator, isn’t much better. Our Rep may be more moderate. Time will tell. My guess is that both senators will vote straight party line no matter what offered. Neither is open-minded enough to be able to compromise on anything. The old saying “my way, or, the highway” pertains to our senators. No hope for anything bipartisan from these two.

  • Edward Letourneau

    Where were these people when it was time to fix bad law? They were whining about how the republicans wanted to fix it, instead of offering solutions. — And now, that the repeal has not passed, they want to fix it, only because they know they own it, and the administration has the power to implement correction of the massive giveaways that were keeping ACA afloat. We need to vote the do-nothing-whiners out of office.

    • Steve Baker

      They had 7 1/2 years to fix this monstrosity and did nothing. I believe that’s the hidden motive to Obamacare, it was made so large, so intrusive, so dangerous that he could never be fixed………

    • David Bell


      I don’t know what country you are thinking of, but here the GOP offered a repeal without so much as the faintest whisper of what it would be replaced with.

      One of the many reasons for the GOP’s string of failures on repeal is they studiously avoided making even the most paltry effort to come up with a replacement.

      The GOP had every chance to offer fixes, they offered a big, fat load of nothing and now they are forced to stammer out excuses and lie about Nancy Pelosi in a desperate attempt to obfuscate the fact they have nothing to offer the American people.

      • Edward Letourneau

        Well when you have rotten wood on the house, the correct fix is to get rid of it, because the house falls down.

        • David Bell

          Except the house is not falling down, and you need wood to replace the rot with. Remove the “rotten wood” and replace it with nothing and you are even worse off than before.

          But when you can convince yourself the only people to fall through the holes in the floor deserved it, you can tell yourself the holes somehow don’t matter.

      • Steve Baker

        I’m not sure what country you’re thinking of but this was going to be phased in, ring them time to work details out.
        Has there ever been one government program you were not in favor of growing bigger and bigger ?

        • David Bell

          What was going to be phased in and when as part of what plan?

          And on that note, since they’ve had the better part of a decade to work out details, how much longer do you think they will need?

  • Dominic Cotignola

    Obstruction by the GOP during the last 8yrs is why we are in the situation we are in. Fixated on repealing everything the last person in office did, is the goal for the next 4yrs.
    Not about moving forward, not about making america great again, not about caring for your fellow man. Repeal the last 8 yrs, and replace with nothing leaving the status quo, is the plan for the next 4 yrs. Sad

    • Matt Young

      Great slogans but Obama care wasn’t sustainable, we need something else.

    • Steve Baker

      How could they abstract when Obama had all three branches of government in his pocket?
      The Senate, the legislature, and the press ball continue to cover for the dear leader as he lied to the American people 30+ times.
      Did you get a $2500 reduction and your health care cost?

      • JohnGreenberg

        “Obama had all three branches of government in his pocket.” That would come as news to him!

        For Obama’s first 2 years, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. For the last 6, the Republicans controlled the House and thanks to filibuster rules, were able to block most Democratic efforts in the Senate as well, even during those years when the Democrats still controlled it.

        As to the Supreme Court, five (a majority) of the justices were conservative Republicans throughout Obama’s term until Scalia died.Then the Court was divided 4-4 between Republican and Democratic appointees, and remained so thanks to unprecedented maneuvers by the Republican senate majority.

        Facts matter.

  • Tim Vincent

    Where was bipartisanship in 2010 when Obamacare was rammed down the nation’s throat by Democrat Senate trickery – taking over 1/6 of the nation’s economy by “reconciliation?”
    Now, that this rolling train wreck is heading over the cliff, Leahy and the rest of the dishonest Democrats want “bipartisanship”, which is especially rich, coming from probably the most bitter partisan in the Senate – Leahy.
    The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is who gets to spend OUR money.

    • JohnGreenberg

      IF “reconciliation” was “Democrat Senate trickery” when Obamacare passed, what is it now that EVERY vote taken by the Republican controlled Senate was premised on meeting only the reconciliation requirements?

      For those who don’t follow senate rules closely, “reconciliation” bills — which MUST be strictly about budget issues — can pass with a simple majority whereas all other bills require a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

      In this last instance, the Senate parliamentarian, who is is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Republican Senate Majority Leader has ruled that various parts of the bills the Republicans introduced to repeal and replace Obamacare did NOT comply with the “reconciliation” restrictions.

  • Louis Meyers

    Is Bernie Sanders purposefully avoiding the Vermont press, and if so why?

    • David Dempsey

      Yes he is. He hasn’t given an interview to any Vermont new media organizations since he became a candiate for president.

    • rick irick

      Bernie supports single payer not Obama care.

  • Brad Benedict

    I disagree with the perspective of Messrs. Letourneau and Everett. I think each of Vermont’s delegation will work toward bettering the Affordable Care Act, bringing ideas and potential solutions. I do not consider our delegation whiners.

    • Edward Letourneau

      They have done nothing, zero to fix it for the last 7 years. Now they whine about that the other side wants to do.

      • David Bell

        The other side wants to jack up the price on millions and outright steal healthcare from millions more. But somehow this is a good thing?

        • Steve Baker

          Not really sure what book you’re reading, but you sound like Bernie, ” millions will die” do you actually know how many people died last year under Obamacare?

          • JohnGreenberg

            “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan federal agency, estimated last month that 23 million people would lose their health insurance over the next decade if the Republican bill that passed the House made it into law. The CBO is yet to score the Senate version.

            “Various studies have looked at whether uninsured people have a higher risk of death. The most cited was published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2009 and found that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of being uninsured.” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/24/us-healthcare-republican-bill-no-coverage-death

      • Liz Leyden

        The other side wants to return to the bad old days, when life itself could be a pre-existing condition.

    • Steve Baker

      It’s funny, Bernie, Pete, and Pat haven’t offered much in the last 7 1/2 years.
      Then, led by Nancy the Start compromise with my way or the highway..

  • rick irick

    when a healthy 27 yr old employee gets a healthcare quote for 893.00 a month with a 3600.00 deductible its time to start all over. I think trump is right this Obama care will implode all by itself. those with no subsidies are getting killed. this kid could buy a house for what they want him to pay.

    • Liz Leyden

      That’s about what I paid to cover 2 adults under my old employer’s health plan.

  • Peter Chick

    Now it is becoming clear the Democrats are in a corner they want to make a deal.

    • Steve Baker

      After they have done absolutely nothing for 7 1/2 years and are facing the total implosion of Obamacare, now they want to get help from the other side of the aisle,

  • Dave Bellini

    Eliminate political parties and mandate term limits. Think of how much more would get done if these 5th grade school children in DC were not keeping score. The Senate should have a “one and done” 4 year term. The US House should be one 4 year term also. Flush the toilet so to speak. Then we won’t have to hear about seniority, reelection and who is on what team. Just do the work, perform public service and get out. No retirement. It shouldn’t be a way of life.

    • Steve Baker

      Wow, this is the second point we’ve agreed upon in one month!
      The “party system” has been proven corrupt.

  • Edgar Stout

    Please explain why it is an exaggeration. I do not believe it is.

  • Steve Baker

    No fabrication, that’s what you have to do. You have to penalize the healthy younger workers to pay for all the others.
    Case last week, female from Vermont looking for lung transplant, BMI of 38%…..
    The young have to pay for these bad life choices

  • JohnGreenberg

    Meaning that it IS Republican “trickery.” Or are you trying to contend that it’s only “trickery” when Democrats do it.

    It is worth noting, additionally, that I never heard Democrats complain about the fact that the Republicans were using the reconciliation rules (except when they were MISusing them), but the Republicans howled in protest about the Democrats using them, just as you did above.

  • JohnGreenberg

    First, now you’ve gone from 8 years to 2 years (with 2 out
    of 3 branches). I’ll take that as admission that your first claim was false.

    “Did nothing?” Really? During his first 2 years, Obama’s
    Congress passed the ACA (about which you’ve been whining ever since – remember?), the stimulus bill which took the US economy out of the recession faster than
    the rest of the developed world, which insisted on austerity, passed Dodd-Frank, saved the American auto industry, repealed “Don’t ask, don’t
    tell,” substantially increased the VA budget, passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed and ratified a new START treaty, got an act passed allowing FDA to regulate tobacco, reversed unjust laws on crack cocaine, and invested heavily in
    renewable energy creating millions of new jobs and cleaning up the environment. That’s not to mention his foreign policy and other achievements (fuel efficiency standards) which did not require new legislation.

    You may disagree with any or all of these, but they
    clearly aren’t “nothing.”