Senator says he nearly has the votes for ObamaCare repeal

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOvernight Health Care: Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid GOP senator: CBO moving the goalposts on ObamaCare mandate CNN to air sexual harassment Town Hall featuring Gretchen Carlson, Anita Hill MORE (R-La.) is predicting he will win enough votes to pass his last ditch ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill through the Senate, despite the long odds he seems to be facing.

“I am pretty confident we’ll get there on the Republican side,” Cassidy told a group of reporters in his office on Friday. “We’re probably at 48-49 [votes] and talking to two or three more.”

The problem for Senate Republicans when it comes to ObamaCare repeal has always been getting the final few votes to put them over the top. The repeal legislation that failed in July got 49 votes, but fell short because three GOP senators bucked leadership and voted no.

There is an extremely short window to pass the bill before a procedural deadline of Sept. 30. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP senator asks to be taken off Moore fundraising appeals Red state lawmakers find blue state piggy bank Prosecutors tell Paul to expect federal charges against attacker: report MORE (R-Ky.) on Friday announced his opposition, saying the bill kept too much of ObamaCare.

Cassidy said that if the bill does not pass by Sept. 30, he would try again in the future. 

But he pointed to a closed-door Senate GOP lunch on Thursday as a positive sign. He said after an informal discussion of the bill, Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerArmed Services chairman: Pentagon didn't heed warnings before fatal collisions Navy report: Deadly ship collisions preventable, stemmed from 'multiple failures' Bannon's charge against GOP can undercut Trump himself MORE (R-Miss.) asked to devote the lunch to discussing health care more deeply. 

“I told my wife when I got home last night that yesterday may have been my best day as a senator, and I’ve had some pretty good days,” Cassidy said. 

Cassidy said the high point of the discussion was when Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program Dem donor on MSNBC: 'Hopefully we'll get our sh-- together' The Hill interview — DNC chief: I came here to win elections MORE (R-Nev.), who is co-sponsoring the measure and facing a tough reelection race next year, stood up.

“I’m running for reelection. People have told me to lay low on health care,” Heller said, according to Cassidy. “I said I’m not laying low. I wasn’t elected senator to lay low.” 

The plan, which was put forward by Cassidy, Heller, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Key differences between the Senate and House tax plans Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCNN to air sexual harassment Town Hall featuring Gretchen Carlson, Anita Hill Trump wrestles with handling American enemy combatants Flake: Trump's call for DOJ to probe Democrats 'not normal' MORE (R-S.C.), seeks to give more power to states. It ends ObamaCare funding for subsidies to help people afford coverage and funding for the Medicaid expansion, instead converting both pots of money into a block grant to states. 

GOP leadership, though, has not thrown its full weight behind the bill, which would mean diving back into the divisive ObamaCare debate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Ky.) has told Cassidy and Graham that they need to find 51 votes on their own.

But Cassidy said that leadership is telling the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to prioritize its analysis of the measure, a crucial step before it can be considered on the floor.

“We’re told that CBO was told by our leadership to make this a priority above all other priorities,” Cassidy said. “Mitch has always said, ‘Show me you can get 50 votes.’ ” 

With 50 votes, Republicans could then rely on Vice President Pence to break the tie.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Overnight Defense: Lawmakers question military's lapse after Texas shooting | Trump asks North Korea to 'make a deal' | Senate panel approves Army pick Overnight Regulation: House passes bill to overturn joint-employer rule | Trump officials to allow work requirements for Medicaid | Lawmakers 'alarmed' by EPA's science board changes MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the upper chamber, said Thursday that he would do a whip count on the bill to determine its level of support.

The prospects of the bill passing have alarmed Democratic activists, who are now mobilizing against it.

Democrats argue the block grants in the bill would be too small and would lead to cuts in Medicaid and other health spending. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the measure would lead to a 17 percent cut in spending compared to ObamaCare in 2026. 

Cassidy, though, argues, that his measure simply equalizes spending by giving more money to many states that have not expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare and cutting back on some high-cost states that he argues are spending too much.

“Should the rest of the country sacrifice because they have costs that are so incredibly high?” Cassidy said, using Massachusetts as an example of a state he said spends too much.

Defending a new cap on overall Medicaid payments in the bill, Cassidy said that current spending on the program is “not sustainable.”

The bill would also allow states to apply for waivers to repeal ObamaCare regulations, including the prohibition against insurers charging sick people higher premiums.

Cassidy, who has long promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions, said that the bill would still protect them because states would have to show they are providing “affordable and adequate” coverage in order to get a waiver.

He also said coverage losses that will likely be found by the CBO for his bill would be wrong. The office's analysis puts too much importance on the effect of repealing ObamaCare's mandate to have coverage, he said.

"I just don’t care about the coverage numbers because their methodology has been proven to be wrong," Cassidy said.  

Asked why he has kept plugging away on his bill, Cassidy cited the book “A Peace to End All Peace,” about the history of the Middle East and David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel.

“The author says David Ben-Gurion was of the type that said, ‘If you continue to do what is right, good things happen,'” Cassidy said. “So we figured we’d just keep plugging away and doing what’s right, and something good would happen.”