Senator says he nearly has the votes for ObamaCare repeal

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyMnuchin meets with Senate GOP to shore up ranks on Russia sanctions vote Trump on declaring national emergency: 'Not going to do it so fast' Acosta mocked for border reporting: 'Exactly – walls work!' 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 PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria 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 WickerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Mobile providers at center of privacy storm The Memo: Trump moves to brink of emergency declaration 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 HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems 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 JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report 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 McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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 CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test 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.”