Why John McCain opposed the GOP’s latest repeal attempt

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRepublicans have dumped Reagan for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE’s (R-Ariz.) decision to oppose his party’s latest ObamaCare repeal bill is in line with his steady calls for bipartisanship and regular order since his return to the Senate in July following a cancer diagnosis.

In a fiery speech on the Senate floor just days before he killed the GOP’s “skinny" repeal bill over the summer, the Arizona senator pleaded with his colleagues for a change in business — and for hearings to be held on health-care legislation in hopes of a bipartisan deal.

“We’re getting nothing done,” McCain said.


“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act,” he said. “If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order.”

McCain’s demand for “regular order” has now guided his decision to oppose two repeal bills.

He stunned his colleagues when he cast the deciding vote against the GOP’s “skinny" repeal bill in July, and on Friday he came out against the GOP’s latest, and possibly last effort of the year, to repeal ObamaCare.

“As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate,” McCain said in Friday’s statement, arguing that the bill should be marked up in committee and sent to the floor for debate and amendments.

The Senate Health Committee had been working on a bipartisan effort, which McCain cheered on, to stabilize ObamaCare’s wobbly insurance markets in time for the upcoming plan year.

But GOP leaders quashed that effort as a new repeal bill sponsored by Sens. Bill CassidyBill CassidyUtah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Amazon blocks 10B listings in crackdown on counterfeits Cassidy on pipeline cyberattack: Congress must equip businesses with defenses against incursions MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' MORE (R-S.C.), one of McCain’s best friends, began to gain momentum in the Senate.

Given McCain’s relationship with Graham, there were hopes on the Republican side that he might come on board.

He and Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate panel deadlocks over Biden pick to lead DOJ civil rights division Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP MORE (R-Alaska), two of July’s three GOP "no" votes, were seen as the critical players — and McCain was seen on the Senate floor with the Alaskan having an intense conversation Tuesday as Senate leaders looked on.

It was just a two-day week for senators in Washington, but McCain was at the center of attention.

On Monday, as crowds of reporters trailed him all day, he repeatedly said he just wanted to return to “regular order” — and made it clear he did not see his friend’s bill as a result of that process.

“I have talked and talked and talked about the need to do regular order. I have amendments that I would like to have votes on. ... Am I going to be able to have those, or is [it] going to be an up or down vote? That's not why I came to the Senate just to give up or down votes,” he said.

He said the process surrounding the latest bill had been better but added a caveat.

“It's better, but it's not what the Senate is supposed to be doing. ... Is it better to be guilty of murder or train robbery?”

By Tuesday, he grew so frustrated with being asked about his position on the bill, he snapped at one reporter asking about Medicaid.

“I have nothing to say. Do you hear me?”

At one point, McCain was so surrounded by reporters in the Senate subway that an aide had to repeatedly say “let him walk” as he made his way to vote. In his statement Friday, McCain said he would have been willing to consider supporting similar legislation “were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case.”

“Instead, the specter of [the] September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process,” he said.

McCain this week expressed no regrets about potentially killing the GOP’s last shot of the year to repeal ObamaCare.

“I'm not the one that waited nine months ... it's not my problem that we only have those few days,” he told reporters this week.

Republicans have until the end of the month to use special budgetary rules to move their health-care bill without fear of a Democratic filibuster. That greatly increases their chances of getting the bill to President Trump.

The Senate was prepared to vote on the bill without a full analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which would have detailed the measure’s potential impact on uninsured rates and premiums.

This was another issue for McCain, who said he could not support legislation “without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

“Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions,” he said.

The Graham-Cassidy proposal could have a detrimental impact on McCain’s state.

The legislation attempted to equalize funding between states that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare and states that didn’t. Because Arizona expanded Medicaid, it stands to lose billions between 2020 and 2026.

A study from Avalere, a health care consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., estimated Arizona would lose $11 billion in federal funding between 2020 and 2026 under the bill, while the Kaiser Family Foundation put that number closer to $4.5 billion.

Still, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey supported the bill, putting additional pressure on McCain.

McCain told reporters this week that he would consult with his governor, but he ultimately decided to go in a different direction.

Following McCain’s announcement Friday, Ducey said in a statement he remains supportive of the bill and encourages “others to do the same.”