Sen. Ron Johnson on health care bill’s collapse: “I will not throw in the towel”

MILWAUKEE -- U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who was part of a Republican revolt that doomed the GOP's health care bill, said after a meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, July 19th that he wasn't giving up.

After Senate Republicans dropped another attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump invited all GOP senators to discuss their issues over lunch at the White House.

Johnson said he agreed with President Trump that the Senate should not leave Washington without passing a health care bill. Johnson said he did not want to repeal the current law without replacing it, another position he shares with the president -- though Senate leaders promoted a straight repeal bill this week.

Repealing the law known as Obamacare without replacing it would leave 17 million more people without insurance next year, according to numbers released by the Congressional Budget Office late Wednesday.

Ron Johnson

Still, Johnson said the meeting of a divided GOP at the White House was productive.

"I've never thrown in the towel. I will not throw in the towel," Johnson said. "Sounds like other people were saying we were facing defeat. I'm hoping this meeting at the White House snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat."

Johnson softened his criticism of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he has blistered in recent days over his handling of the health bill. The Wisconsin senator still would not say if he had faith in McConnell, but said he didn't envy the leader's position.

Johnson played a role in the GOP health care bill's demise because he never said he'd vote for it, criticizing both the way it was developed and also that it didn't repeal enough of Obamacare. He said he hoped the Senate would have a new bill later this summer.

Ron Johnson

"I don't think we should be going home on any kind of August break until we achieve that goal where we have repealed as much of Obamacare as we can through the processes we have and replace it with something that puts us in a better place tomorrow," Johnson said.

Some observers in Wisconsin said they do not see Wednesday as a turning point.

"Persuading legislators to vote for something usually takes a little longer than a lunch," said Marquette University Professor Phil Rocco, who studies health policy. "While it's probably clear that Republicans know that it's a good idea to pass something, the idea that there's a possibility of convergence on what that's going to be is pretty unlikely at this point."

Phil Rocco

Jon Rauser, a Mequon-based insurance agent who sells policies through the Affordable Care Act, criticized how Republicans were handling the legislation. Rauser met with Vice President Mike Pence when Pence visited Milwaukee in June.

"They're playing out of the same playbook" as Democrats did while passing the ACA in 2010 by making it a partisan process, he said. "It seems they decided two wrongs make a right."

Doing nothing also won't work, Rauser said. He predicted that 2018 insurance rates on the individual market, which insurers have already filed but remain sealed until October, "are not going to be pretty."

Affordable Care Act plan rates in Wisconsin jumped an average of 16 percent for 2017.