FRANKFORT Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Congress, John Yarmuth, predicted Friday that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will not allow the Senate to vote on a Republican healthcare replacement for the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.

Yarmuth told about 65 gathered for an event sponsored by Together Frankfort, a recently formed civic engagement group, that Republicans find themselves in a tough spot after calling for repeal of the ACA for years.

Yarmuth has been a staunch supporter of the ACA, the signature legislative accomplishment of Democratic President Barack Obama.

But since its passage, Republicans have campaigned against the bill, led by McConnell who for years has consistently called for the repeal of Obamacare “root and branch.” President Donald Trump has made its replacement the focus of his early administration.

Now, with control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans are scrambling to make good on their promises while trying to preserve popular provisions in the ACA.

After a failed attempt earlier this year, House Republicans narrowly passed the American Health Care Act which has prompted angry protests at congressional town halls. Critics say the measure will cut Medicaid by $880 billion over 10 years, weaken or eliminate the prohibition on denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and ultimately cost 24 million people healthcare coverage.

McConnell has said the Senate won’t vote on that bill but will instead write its own, and he’s appointed 13 Republicans to work on crafting a bill which Republicans hope to pass on a simple majority vote through what is known as the reconciliation process.

Such votes can only be taken on legislation which pertains to the budget and the federal deficit and the Senate parliamentarian must rule on whether legislation qualifies for such a vote. Otherwise, Republicans would need 60 votes to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

“I’m convinced that Mitch McConnell will not allow anything to get out of the Senate because he doesn’t want any one of his members to have to take a vote on healthcare,” Yarmuth told the group.

He said “at least a half-dozen” Republican senators “could be vulnerable (in the 2018 mid-term elections) if they have to cast a tough vote on health care.”

Republicans presently hold 52 Senate seats to Democrats’ 48 (including two independents who vote with Democrats).

A president’s party typically loses seats in a mid-term election. However, next year’s Senate map favors Republicans who will have to defend only eight seats while Democrats must defend 23. But Democrats are feeling increasingly optimistic about their 2018 prospects – especially in the House where they need to pick up 24 seats to gain control — in the aftermath of constituent unhappiness over the House healthcare vote and Trump’s rocky first three months in office.

Robert Steurer, a spokesman in McConnell’s Washington office, didn’t directly address Yarmuth’s comments, instead pointing to a floor speech McConnell gave earlier this past Wednesday in which he said the ACA continues to fail “the American people and keeps getting worse.”

He went on to say Democrats have indicated a willingness to work with Republicans on “common sense reforms” and said he welcomes Democrats’ input.

But Democrats actually have said they are willing on correcting some of the problems in the ACA – not in replacing it.

Yarmuth said the bill passed by the House “has nothing to do with healthcare.” He said Republicans had two goals: first, passing something they could claim delivered on a promise to repeal the ACA and, secondly, “to pass a massive tax cut, almost all of which went to people earning $200,000 a year and to corporations.”

He said Republicans have now realized “they have no place to go on healthcare,” that the only acceptable alternative to the ACA is a single-pay system. In fact, Yarmuth predicted that’s where the country is headed.

“I’m convinced that within 10 years there’s going to be a major push for Medicare for everybody and it’s going to come from corporate America,” Yarmuth said.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.