Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio Getty Images

Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.”

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to … encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell that they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning healthcare staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say how he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and a former healthcare executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would have cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t have kicked in for a few years.

Tuesday was supposed to be a day of last-ditch lobbying for Scott as Senate leaders said the bill would come up for a vote by the end of the week. He now has some time, although Senate Republicans are facing pressure from all fronts. The party base that supports Trump is upset with moderates like Nevada Sen. Dean Heller for his opposition to the bill, while conservatives like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said they will not vote for the bill in its current form because it doesn’t go far enough to overturn Obamacare.

“There’s constant conversations and it’s changing, so you can’t say where it is right now,” Scott said less than two hours before Senate leaders announced the bill was delayed. “Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers.”

Scott also met with Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman who enjoys close relations with many Republicans on Capitol Hill. Pence declined to answer questions as he left the GOP’s weekly luncheon where the delay was first announced.

Rubio said the delay won’t faze him, even though he’s likely going to be bombarded with protests at his offices around the state during the July 4th recess in an attempt to influence his vote.

“I ran for election and reelection as an opponent of Obamacare,” Rubio said. “I don’t think I’ve ever misled people about my views on it. I’m in favor of repealing it, we’re just debating how to do it.”

After the meeting with McConnell, Rubio joined his Republican Senate colleagues on a bus to the White House, weeks after the president celebrated in the Rose Garden with House Republicans after they passed an Obamacare repeal bill in May.

“I think the Senate bill is going to be great,” Trump said at the White House.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty