SALT LAKE CITY — After Senate Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare the past few tumultuous weeks, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says it's time leave the issue behind for now.
"There’s just too much animosity, and we’re too divided on health care,” the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee told Reuters on Monday. "I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to health care afterwards, but we need to move ahead on tax reform."
On the need to eventually deal with health care, Hatch later told reporters: "We’re going to have to face it and try and do what needs to be done," but that he and other Republicans would tell the White House that the Senate has decided to address other parts of its agenda for the time being.
Other members of the Senate leadership agreed.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said: "It's time to move on and put wins on the board."
"Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it's over," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the Senate’s third-ranking Republican.
After the Senate rejected the so-called "skinny repeal" last week, both Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, vowed to continue efforts to overhaul former President Barack Obama's signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
Lee called the failed vote a "blessing in disguise" in his weekly newsletter and said Congress must go back to the drawing board.
"When the bill failed, many declared the issue dead," he wrote. "But as long as Obamacare is on the books, hurting millions of Americans and driving up the cost of health care, this issue isn’t going anywhere."
Lee also said the Senate didn't work the way it's supposed to and that it "failed the American people."
"We must to go back to the proper committees of jurisdiction and start from the beginning by identifying the specific policy problems we are trying to solve and then craft reforms to solve them," he said.
Hatch has expressed frustration that despite a Republican Congress and White House, no meaningful legislation has passed.
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Hatch talked about what he sees as the broken state of the Senate and a path forward.
"It begins by recognizing that all of us here — Democrats and Republicans alike — are to some extent culpable for the current dysfunction. If we want to break free of the current gridlock, we have to be honest with ourselves. And we have to recognize that laying all the blame on the other side is as counterproductive as it is disingenuous," according to an excerpt of the speech.
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat running for Hatch's seat, said in saying the Senate is divided on health care, Hatch is admitting that "bipartisanship is too much of a burden for him."
Wilson said there was a time when Hatch worked with Democrats to get things done.49 comments on this story
"His exhaustion and defeatism does not represent who we are as Utahns, so it's time that he no longer represents us in Washington," she said in a statement. "If Hatch doesn't have the willpower or the ability to work across the aisle, Utahns deserve someone who will."
In his speech, Hatch, who is president pro tem of the Senate, said he has passed more legislation "than anyone alive today" by working with Democrats over his decades of service. Most of those 768 bills were bipartisan, according to his office.
Hatch said he wants to hold hearings and a regular process on tax reform and wants health care to be a bipartisan effort when the Senate revisits the issue.