Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare

Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare
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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions 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 PaulSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Lawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program 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 PenceNew GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Pence hires Freedom Caucus adviser for press secretary Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid 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 BurrLawmakers grapple with warrantless wiretapping program Facebook under fire over Russian ads in election 5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana MORE (R-N.C.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate passes 0B defense bill Overnight Health Care: New GOP ObamaCare repeal bill gains momentum Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea 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.