0538 GMT January 18, 2020
The most moderate of Republican senators joined John McCain and Rand Paul in rejecting the bill to end Obamacare. It was a major blow for President Donald Trump who has made undoing Democratic former president Barack Obama’s signature health care law a top priority since the 2016 campaign and who pressured Collins in a call on Monday, Reuters reported.
The bill’s sweeping cut in funding to Medicaid, a program for low income citizens and disabled children, was her top reason for opposing the bill, said Collins, from the state of Maine where 20 percent of the population depend on the program.
“To take a program that has been law for more than 50 years, and make those kinds of fundamental structural changes ... and to do so without having in depth hearings to evaluate the impact on our most vulnerable citizens was unacceptable,” Collins said outside the Senate chambers.
Collins’ decision came even after the sponsors of the bill, senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, offered a boost in federal health care funds of 43 percent for Maine and benefits for states with other undecided senators.
Republicans have vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, since it was passed in 2010. While it extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, they believe it is an unwarranted and costly government intrusion into health care, while also opposing taxes it imposed on the wealthy.
Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate and are up against a tight September 30 deadline to pass a bill with a simple majority, instead of the 60-vote threshold needed for most measures. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell wanted to hold a vote this week, but it is not clear he will do so now that three senators have said they will cast “no” votes.
Graham dismissed notions that the bill was the last chance for Republicans to get rid of Obamacare and pledged to keep working on the legislation.
Democrats kept up their pressure for killing the bill. In an evening speech on the Senate floor, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, “The Trumpcare bill would gut Medicaid, would cause millions to lose coverage, cause chaos in the marketplace.”
The Senate held its first hearing all year on the proposed Obamacare repeal on Monday, but it was immediately disrupted by protesters who forced Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch to postpone its start by about 15 minutes.
Police arrested 181 demonstrators, including 15 in the hearing room. The protesters, mainly from a disability rights group and many of whom were in wheelchairs, were forcibly removed one-by-one from the hearing room as they yelled, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty.” The hearing eventually proceeded for about five hours, but protests could be heard outside for more than an hour.