Senator says he nearly has the votes for ObamaCare repeal

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyOutdated global postal system hurts US manufacturers GOP eyes another shot at ObamaCare repeal after McCain’s death Overnight Defense: Push to rename Senate building for McCain sparks GOP backlash | Pentagon has no plans to suspend future Korea war games | Mattis rejects plan to privatize Afghan War 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 PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested 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 WickerTrump cancels Mississippi rally due to hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke GOP senators introduce bill to preserve ObamaCare's pre-existing conditions protections 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 HellerPoll: Dean Heller running even against Democratic challenger Dems gain momentum 50 days before midterms California was once the epicenter of pollution — time to learn from its green transition 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 JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCriticizing Trump’s ‘unsung success’ in Puerto Rico is valid — empty rhetoric is not Biden: Delay Kavanaugh vote to give accuser a fair, respectful hearing Ken Starr says 'I trust Brett Kavanaugh' over allegations that are 'so wildly out of character' 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 McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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 CornynKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Grassley: Kavanaugh accuser 'deserves to be heard' in 'appropriate' manner 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.”