The two senators who will likely decide fate of ObamaCare repeal

The two senators who will likely decide fate of ObamaCare repeal
© Greg Nash

All eyes are on Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Ariz.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiNew momentum for Equal Rights Amendment Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World MORE (Alaska) as Republicans try to approve a new ObamaCare repeal bill in the next 11 days.

The two were among the three Republicans who sank the last GOP effort to repeal ObamaCare, and President Trump and his allies probably can’t afford to lose either if they are to win a vote next week.

Murkowski says she wants to make sure her huge, isolated and sparsely populated state fares well under the new bill. It would repeal much of ObamaCare and use the savings for block grants for states, giving them much more discretion on how to spend the federal funding.

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“I’m still looking for the data that walks me through how Alaska actually does,” Murkowski told reporters Tuesday.

McCain, whose thumbs-down in a July vote seemingly doomed Trump’s hopes of repealing ObamaCare, has been non-committal.

He’s focused on the Senate’s process, demanding regular order through hearings and amendments, and an effort at bipartisanship.

“I am not supportive of the bill yet,” he said Monday. “We’ll talk more about it. I’ll talk with my governor and all that. I want regular order.”

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCivil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber MORE (Ky.) is the only public GOP no vote so far, though Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Maine), the third Republican no vote in July, is seen as a likely opponent.

If Collins does vote no, Republicans can only afford one more defection.

As a result, there is reason to think it will all come down to McCain and Murkowski.

The two will have little time to make up their minds. Republicans only have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill under special budgetary rules that prevent Democrats from blocking it with a filibuster.

Both senators have had testy relationships with Trump, who would secure a major political victory if the Senate passes ObamaCare repeal.

Trump early in his presidential campaign ridiculed McCain’s history as a prisoner of war, declaring that he liked war heroes who were not captured. The two have exchanged tough words over the last two years, and McCain’s no vote on ObamaCare repeal earlier this year was seen through that prism.

The president sought to pressure Murkowski through Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Major California utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy after wildfires | Zinke hired at investment firm | Barclays to avoid most Arctic drilling financing Zinke takes job at investment firm Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general MORE, who called Murkowski after she cast an initial procedural vote against an ObamaCare repeal bill. Zinke suggested that the Trump administration could retaliate against her state economically because of her vote.

Murkowski publicly downplayed the call, though the fact that her committee postponed a planned confirmation vote on three Interior nominees the same day as the call raised plenty of eyebrows in Washington.

McCain and Murkowski both face pressure from their governors.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, is backing the new Senate bill, while Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, opposes it.

Both senators have made it clear they will consider their governors’ positions, but it’s clear that both also split from the state officials.

McCain voted down the last ObamaCare bill even though Ducey supported it, and Murkowski on Tuesday signaled she’s going to make up her own mind on the bill.

“In fairness to my governor, in fairness to Alaskans, the numbers actually matter and so if it can be shown that Alaska is not going to be disadvantaged, we gain additional flexibility, then I can go back to Alaskans and I can say, ‘OK, let’s walk through this together,’ ” Murkowski said on Tuesday.

“That’s where it could be different. But I don’t have that right now, so those that have asked, ‘where are you, where are you,’ it’s not that I’m being evasive, it’s that I’m being diligent.”

Alaska has the nation’s highest premiums and benefited from ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. Alaska likely would lose out under the latest repeal bill, primarily because it eliminates funding for the expansion and ObamaCare subsidies in exchange for a lump sum of money through 2026.

According to an analysis from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Alaska would be one of the biggest losers under the plan, seeing a $255 million reduction in federal funding for health care by 2026.

Another critical issue for Murkowski is funding for Planned Parenthood. It would be defunded for a year under the new bill.

Earlier this year, Murkowski and Collins had demanded a vote on an amendment to strip that provision out of a separate GOP ObamaCare repeal bill.

For McCain, two deciding factors could be his relationship with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Barr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct Debate builds over making Mueller report public MORE (R-S.C.) and the way the Senate handles the bill.

Graham, an author of the repeal measure, is one of McCain’s closest friends, and there is reason to think his loyalty to the South Carolina senator could be enough to win his vote.

Republicans seeking to win McCain over have also promised a hearing on the bill next week in the Finance Committee.

Still, it’s unclear if the legislation will get a mark-up, which is typical in a regular order process. Republicans could skip the committee vote, given their time frame, and bring the measure straight to the floor.

Graham sounded positive about the prospects of winning over McCain on Tuesday.

“I’ll let John speak for himself, but he likes federalism,” Graham said in an interview with the White House pool. “Let’s put it this way, I feel very good about this, and we’ll see.”

One thing is certain: The pressure on both senators will only increase as long as they are on the fence.