Week ahead in health care: ObamaCare repeal bill hanging by a thread
Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare this year were dealt a major blow Friday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would vote against the bill.
McCain is the second Republican, following Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), to announce his opposition to the bill spearheaded by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C) and Bill Cassidy (La.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had aimed for a vote in the coming week but those plans are now up in the air. With only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, GOP leaders cannot afford to lose a third vote. If they can hold on to the rest of the caucus, Vice President Mike Pence could provide the tie-breaking 51st vote for repeal.
Pence on Friday insisted the White House was undeterred and urged GOP senators to “keep their word” to the American people and vote for repeal.
But the odds look daunting for supporters of the repeal bill.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined McCain as the three Republicans who voted against the last repeal bill in July. Collins has already said she is leaning against, while Murkowski is undecided but expressed concerns with Graham-Cassidy.
Time is also running out for GOP leaders, who face a Saturday Sept. 30 deadline to pass a repeal bill under the reconciliation fast-track process, which allows them to avoid a Democratic filibuster.
McCain didn’t express concerns about the policy of the legislation, but complained the legislation had been rushed to the floor without going through the normal committee process.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said in a statement.
He urged colleagues to try to craft a bipartisan bill using “regular order.”
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill Monday afternoon. Witnesses have yet to be announced.
Top Senate Democrats left the door open to revising efforts to pass a bipartisan to stabilize ObamaCare markets, but its unclear if Republicans will back those calls.
The Senate health committee held a number of hearings after lawmakers returned from the August recess. But Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) pulled the plug on negotiations on Tuesday after it appeared momentum was building for Graham-Cassidy. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the White House had also warned they would not back a bill they characterized as a “bailout” for insurers.
“During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted,” Alexander had said.
The top Democrat on the health committee, Sen. Patty Murray (R-Wash.), is urging Republicans to return to the table.
“I’m still at the table ready to keep working, and I remain confident that we can reach a bipartisan agreement as soon as this latest partisan approach by Republican leaders is finally set aside,” she said Friday.
The fate of ObamaCare repeal will dominate the coming week, but there are other health care priorities as well.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as funding for community health centers and Medicare extenders, is set to lapse on Sept. 30 if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the programs.
The Senate Finance Committee announced a deal on a five-year reauthorization of CHIP, but passage is far from assured.
Text of the legislation was released just before Cassidy-Graham began gaining steam, and has not been through a committee markup. There’s also been little discussion about how to pay for the renewal, which is a key sticking point.
A Senate aide said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member on the Finance Committee, was willing to “work towards a solution that secures CHIP for years to come” once the Graham-Cassidy bill is defeated.
The House was out of session for the past week and has yet to release a bill.
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