Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks up to announce a delay in the health care vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Tuesday. The Republican-led Senate could not get enough votes to pass the measure. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 27 June 2017
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Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote

WASHINGTON: In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders shelved a vote on their prized health care bill Tuesday until at least next month, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debate.
“We will not be on the bill this week,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters in what was a remarkable reversal of plans to push one of President Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s top priorities through the chamber this week.
“But we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” he said. That’s the number of GOP senators who must back the bill for it to survive, with all Democrats opposed.
“We’re got a lot of discussions going on, and I’m still optimistic we’re going to get there,” he added.
Minutes earlier, McConnell divulged the decision to GOP senators at a private lunch also attended by Vice President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
GOP senators planned to travel to the White House later Tuesday to meet with Trump.
McConnell had hoped to push the measure through his chamber before an Independence Day recess that party leaders fear will be used by foes of the legislation to tear away support.
The bill, which would roll back much of President Barack Obama’s health care law, has been one of the party’s top priorities for years, and the delay is a major embarrassment to Trump and McConnell. At least five GOP senators — conservatives and moderates — have said they would vote against even beginning debate, and the bill would be derailed if just three of the 52 Republican senators voted against it.
GOP defections increased after Congress’ budget referee said Monday the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than Obama’s 2010 statute.
Utah’s Mike Lee became the fifth Republican senator to oppose letting the chamber formally begin considering the proposal.
Lee was among four conservatives who announced last week that they were against the current version of the legislation.
Still, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters, “I would not bet against Mitch McConnell.”
The Congressional Budget Office analysis suggested some ammunition GOP leaders could use, saying the Senate bill would cut federal deficits by $202 billion more over the coming decade than the version the House approved in May. Senate leaders could use some of those additional savings to attract moderate votes by making Medicaid and other provisions more generous, though conservatives would rather use that money to reduce government red ink.
Minutes after the CBO report’s release, three GOP senators threatened to oppose beginning debate. Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote no. She tweeted that she favors a bipartisan effort to fix Obama’s statute but added, “CBO analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it.”
Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said he would oppose the motion to open debate unless the bill was changed.
And fellow conservative Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said he had “a hard time believing” he’d have enough information to back that motion this week. Moderate Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, said Friday he’d oppose the procedural motion without alterations.
Lee and other conservatives have favored a fuller repeal of Obama’s statute than the Senate bill would enact.
The 22 million extra uninsured Americans were just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. Trump has called the House bill “mean” and prodded senators to produce a package with more “heart.”
The budget office report said the Senate bill’s coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.
The Senate plan would end the tax penalty the law imposes on people who don’t buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don’t offer coverage to workers.
It would let states ease Obama’s requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments. It also would eliminate $700 billion worth of taxes over a decade, largely on wealthier people and medical companies — money that Obama’s law used to expand coverage.
It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama’s expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.
CBO said that average premiums around the country would be higher over the next two years — including about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under Obama’s statute — but lower beginning in 2020.
The office said that overall, the Senate legislation would increase consumers’ out of pocket costs. That’s because standard policies would be skimpier than currently offered under Obama’s law, covering a smaller share of expected medical costs.
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Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas, Andrew Taylor and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.
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Macedonia getting closer to solving name row with Greece

Updated 1 min 46 sec ago
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Macedonia getting closer to solving name row with Greece

SKOPJE: Macedonia has never been closer to solving its 25-year name row with Greece, but even if it fails Skopje will continue to integrate with Europe, its premier says.
“I believe that we have never had better circumstances to find a complete solution that will last for centuries and will remain forever,” Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told AFP in an interview.
The long-running name dispute between Macedonia and EU-member Greece dates back to 1991 when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.
Athens objects to Macedonia’s name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.
“If the dispute is not solved, the world will not end,” Zaev said.
“We will bring Europe here to Skopje (the capital). And we will push an European agenda one way or another.”
Because of the dispute, Macedonia was forced to join the United Nations under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Greek veto threats have also hampered Skopje’s bid to become a member of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
UN mediated talks to settle the row have resumed since Zaev’s Social Democrats won elections last year, ousting the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski after more than ten years in power.
The negotiations have made progress after Macedonia agreed in February to change the name of the capital’s Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International Airport, in a goodwill gesture to Greece.
Macedonia had also been accused of appropriating symbols and figures that are historically considered part of Greek culture, such as Alexander the Great.
The motorway linking Macedonia with Greece was also renamed the Friendship Highway.
Zaev said he was “satisfied” that “a huge part of the issues” between Macedonia and Greece had been solved and that he was optimistic about a final deal.
He has previously said an agreement could be reached by the summer. However, the 43-year-old declined to go into details about the ongoing talks, saying “it could destroy the entire process.”
Earlier this week the European Commission recommended opening EU accession talks with Skopje, an EU candidate since 2005, in a development Zaev described as “encouraging.”
“This is a message of open doors. That is very important for Macedonia,” he said, adding that more than 75 percent of Macedonians are in favor of the country’s integration into the EU and NATO.
However, “that does not mean that we should not improve cooperation with other countries, including the Russian Federation,” Zaev said.
Russia has openly objected to the aspirations of fellow Slavic countries in the Balkans to join NATO, most recently when Montenegro became a member in mid-2017.
“I want to improve cooperation with Russia,” Zaev said.
“(But) the Russian Federation should know that for us there is no alternative to NATO and the European Union. We will remain focused on that path. That is our absolute right, our expectation and how we view the future of this country and the people that live here.”