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Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare

Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare
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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that the GOP has already suffered a key defection on its healthcare reform bill and it may make sense to move past the issue sooner instead of later.

“We’re stuck. We can’t get there from here,” Graham told reporters. “I’m very leery of a healthcare bill passing the Senate that can get through the House. We’ve already lost Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE, so we’re down to 51.”

Graham said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is “irretrievably gone,” meaning GOP leaders can only afford one more defection and still pass legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

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“He’s not going to vote for any bill that has refundable tax credits to help low-income people buy healthcare,” Graham said of the Kentucky senator, who is one of the most conservative members of the GOP conference.

“While we do have a press assistant opening in the Communications Department, Senator Graham has not applied and should not make public statements on behalf of Senator Rand Paul,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said in a statement, however. “Senator Paul remains optimistic the bill can be improved in the days ahead and is keeping an open mind.”

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate, and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceNorth Korea canceled secret meeting with Pence at Olympics Judicial order in Flynn case prompts new round of scrutiny The CIA may need to call White House to clarify Russia meddling MORE can break a 50-50 tie, but three GOP no votes would spell the end of the legislation.

Graham is the latest Republican senator to publicly express doubt over the Senate’s ability to pass a healthcare reform bill that has any chance of later passing the House and becoming law.

There’s growing concern within the GOP conference that they will end up spending too much time on a healthcare debate that goes nowhere and will then have less chance of overhauling the tax code, another top priority.

Graham said if the Congressional Budget Office score for the Senate healthcare bill is as negative as its analysis for the House-passed measure, “we’re in trouble.”

“We need to bring this to an end and move to taxes,” he said. “A lot of the blame is on the Congress here.”

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Finance: Senate rejects Trump immigration plan | U.S. Bancorp to pay 0M in fines for lacking money laundering protections | Cryptocurrency market overcharges users | Prudential fights to loosen oversight Senators introduce bill to help businesses with trade complaints Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (R-N.C.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE’s (R-Ky.) closest allies in the Senate GOP conference, last week said he did not think the Senate would be able to pass a comprehensive healthcare reform bill this year.

“I think it’s unlikely we will get a healthcare bill,” Burr told a local television station, calling the House bill “dead on arrival” and “not a good plan.”

McConnell told Reuters last month that he does not yet know how he will find 50 votes to pass a healthcare overhaul, a comment that was interpreted among Senate Republicans as lowering expectations for a legislative victory.

Graham said on Tuesday Republicans should “let ObamaCare collapse” and then work with Democrats to “find a better solution.”

He added that the GOP should move quickly to taxes.

“On taxes, that needs to be the next agenda item. We need to do it in calendar year 2017,” he said.

--Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:22 p.m.