Last-ditch repeal bill appears dead

Greg Nash

A last-ditch ObamaCare repeal effort by Republicans was all but dead on Monday after Sen. Susan Collins became the third Republican to oppose the measure.

Collins announced her opposition minutes after the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis predicting that millions would lose insurance under the proposal if it became law.

That was enough for Collins, who had long been seen as an almost certain ‘no’ vote on the measure.

{mosads}She joins Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) as GOP “no” votes. Republicans can only afford two defections and still muscle the bill through the Senate.

In a lengthy statement, Collins said the most recent ObamaCare repeal bill, which had been reshaped Sunday in an effort to win her over, “was as deeply flawed as its previous iterations.”

She cited the CBO’s score as one of her reasons for opposing the legislation authored by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.), while also criticizing its cuts to Medicaid, its weakening of protections for people with preexisting conditions and predictions by insurers, hospitals and other groups that it would lead to higher premiums and less coverage for people.

Collins also decried a Senate process that she said had been rushed along.

“Sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target,” said Collins, one of three Republicans along with McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) to vote “no” on a previous slimmed-down ObamaCare repeal bill in July that appeared to end the debate.

“This is simply not the way we should be approaching an important and complex issue that must be handled thoughtfully and fairly for all Americans.”

It’s not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will still try to hold a floor vote later this week, something some GOP donors and the White House may want to see just to get senators on the record.

“I think we’re going to need to have a meeting of our conference tomorrow … so we can kind of see where everybody is before there will be any news,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters after a meeting in McConnell’s office on Monday evening. 

It’s possible there could be more defections than just the three public GOP “no” votes, as Republicans in the center and on the right have both raised reservations about the measure.

Republicans last week said a vote on the Graham-Cassidy measure was possible, though another public failure on ObamaCare could hurt McConnell’s caucus ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

The push came as Republicans faced a Sept. 30 deadline for passing ObamaCare repeal under special budget reconciliation rules that prevent Democrats from launching a filibuster.

The pressure to take advantage of those rules, plus an opening on the Senate schedule created by a debt-and-spending deal between President Trump and congressional Democrats, created room for the health-care repeal push.

Republicans had also heard an earful from conservative activists disappointed that the GOP had failed to repeal ObamaCare even with the White House and Congress in its control.

Even with the GOP effort seemingly at death’s door after McCain’s announcement of opposition on Friday, emotions were high throughout the day with repeal opponents seeking to build the pressure.

Scores of protesters, many of them in wheelchairs, jammed the GOP’s one-and-only hearing on the bill. Capitol Police had to drag some out of the hearing room.

Trump seems to sense the futility of the GOP effort.

“Looks like Susan Collins and some others who will vote against,” Trump said during an interview on the “Rick & Bubba” radio show on Monday. “We’re going to lose two or three votes and that’s the end of that.”

As criticism mounted over the weekend from health-care groups and senators, the bill’s main sponsors, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Monday unveiled a revised version of the bill aimed at winning over Murkowski and Collins.

It kept the bill’s basic structure of repealing ObamaCare and creating block grants to deliver health-care funding to states, but offered additional Medicaid funding to Alaska and Hawaii. 

Still, Alaska would receive slightly less federal funding than under ObamaCare even with the changes. 

Paul, at a press conference on Monday, called the offer extra money for specific states “unseemly” and doubled down on his opposition.

“This was thrown together in a slipshod way,” Paul said. “Who would say we’re going to vote on a trillion dollars worth of grants without even the CBO looking at it or anybody else?”

Cassidy and other proponents acknowledged problems with the process surrounding the bill, but cast their effort as an improvement on ObamaCare that would deliver power to states.

“I don’t defend this process,” Cassidy said at Monday’s hearing, while blaming Democrats for a lack of cooperation throughout the year.

The CBO did not give a specific number of people who would lose coverage in its estimate, but said it would be in the “millions.”

The bill also would reduce deficits by more than $133 billion over 10 years, CBO found, clearing a hurdle in qualifying for special rules to avoid a filibuster. 

As the Senate Finance Committee held its hearing Monday, Democrats criticized the effort, saying it was just for show.

Dozens of protesters arrived outside the hearing room as early as 5 a.m., nine hours before the hearing began.

Chants of “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty” rang through the halls, and could be heard through the hearing room during the initial testimony.

Tags Bill Cassidy John Cornyn John McCain Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Susan Collins

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