GOP senators make last-ditch bid to repeal ObamaCare

Greg Nash

A small group of Republican senators will make a last-ditch effort at repealing ObamaCare on Wednesday, taking a final shot before a deadline expires at the end of the month.

The plan faces extremely long odds, but Senate GOP leadership is not fully ruling it out, though leaders are taking a decidedly hands-off approach.

The GOP faces a deadline of Sept. 30 before the fast-track authority to pass a bill without needing Democratic votes expires. The White House has signaled support, but it is far from clear whether that is enough.

So far, the only senators backing the measure are Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met with Cassidy and Graham about the bill Tuesday and told the pair they need to find 51 votes and build support on their own, according to Cassidy.

“He just says we need 50 votes,” Cassidy told The Hill after the meeting. Fifty votes would allow Vice President Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Many Republicans are moving on to tax reform. Restarting the ObamaCare repeal debate after a repeal bill’s stunning defeat by one vote in the Senate in July would reopen old wounds.

“It’s a double, double bank shot in order for that to happen,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, said of the effort on Tuesday.

But he noted that supporters have been lining up backing from Republican governors, an important step.

“If it looks like this thing’s starting to get some traction, I think that we’ll do everything we can to help speed it along,” Thune said. “We’ll see where the discussions go but, you know, the clock’s ticking and it’s a pretty short window.”

Asked on Monday if he had lined up any additional supporters, Cassidy listed only Johnson, Heller and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain said he supported the bill last week before later walking back his comments somewhat and saying that he wanted committee hearings on it.

“We’re trying to do everything in parallel but that has not yet been fully developed,” Cassidy said of lining up support.

“I think the way forward at least as of today is not clear, but those discussions are underway and we’ll see where they go,” McConnell said Tuesday.

In a further blow to the bill’s chances,
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Monday that he opposes it because the measure leaves too many taxes and regulations in place.

“I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” Paul said. “I haven’t heard anybody talking about it.”

Just three Republican no votes would kill the bill.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted against all three main repeal bills in July, though they have not definitively opposed the new effort.

Heller, though, who is vulnerable in his reelection race next year and opposed the Senate’s main replacement bill in July, is a supporter.

“It’ll take the decisionmaking process and money out of Washington and bring it back to the states,” Heller said at a hearing on Tuesday.

His support for the alternative repeal approach comes as he is trying to thread the needle on health care, caught between a Democratic challenger hitting him for any effort to repeal the law and a Republican primary challenger saying he did not go far enough.

Rep. Jacky Rosen (Nev.), his top Democratic opponent, pointed to Medicaid cuts in the bill in an interview with The Hill last month. “The new bill that his name is on wants to cut Medicaid funding,” Rosen said.

Another hurdle is that given the Sept. 30 deadline, the House would likely have to accept whatever the Senate passed without changes.

House GOP aides say that the general attitude in their chamber has been waiting for the Senate to do something, and many have not yet made definitive judgments.

The White House, though, has been more favorable, and has worked with the bill’s Senate backers. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said last week that President Trump would sign the bill.

White House aide Paul Teller told House GOP staffers at a Republican Study Committee meeting on Monday that the administration is watching the Graham-Cassidy effort “very closely,” according to a House GOP aide.

But Teller did not go so far as to say the White House is pushing for the bill, the aide said.

The proposal would end ObamaCare’s federal funding for subsidies to help people buy insurance and the money for Medicaid expansion. Instead, that funding would be given to states in a block grant.

Democrats warn that the block grants would be too small, though, and would mean cuts. They point to a study from the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that found that nationwide, the bill would result in a 34 percent cut in spending compared to ObamaCare over 10 years.

Tags Bill Cassidy Dean Heller John McCain John Thune Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Ron Johnson Susan Collins
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