Republican health plan barely hanging on

September 23, 2017

WASHINGTON — Republican hopes of repealing Obamacare teetered on the brink of failure yet again Friday as Senate Democrats including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy drew to within one vote of defeating the GOP’s latest replacement.

The decision of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to oppose the measure of Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., means Republicans have no margin of error in their sprint to pass the bill by the Sept. 30 deadline. Although not certain, defeat appeared likely with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, having declared she’s leaning “no’’ and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the fence.

“This bill is the cruelest, meanest most misguided and misanthropic version of Trumpcare to see the light of day,’’ said Blumenthal. “You’d think they’d try to make next version more kind and generous, but instead they’ve gone in the other direction. I’d be shocked if it passed, but I’m even more shocked that we’re even considering it.’’

The Cassidy-Graham bill would replace the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — with more than $1 trillion in block grants to states over seven years. It would end Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, put a cap on overall Medicaid spending and permit states to allow significantly higher premiums for persons with serious medical conditions.

Cassidy, Graham and other Republicans said the bill would take centralized power away from Washington and give states the opportunity to fashion their own solutions to providing health care for all. But insurers, doctors, and health administrators all have criticized the bill as undermining the financial stability of the health care system.

Facing a deadline

With the Senate divided 52-48 in favor or Republicans and all 46 Democrats (plus two independents) against Cassidy-Graham, McCain’s decision means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cannot afford another defection. With Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., already against, just one additional GOP vote would sink the bill.

Under current Senate rules, Republicans have until the end of next week to pass a measure by 50 votes (with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaker). Beyond Sept. 30, Republicans would need 60 votes, a mathematical impossibility.

McCain cast the decisive vote in July that led to defeat of the previous GOP repeal-and-replace effort. The prospect of yet another defeat Friday left Democrats giddy, although mindful that the battle isn’t over yet.

“Coraggio’’ — “courage’’ in Italian — wrote Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., in retweeting McCain’s announcement of his decision.

In a statement, Himes said McCain’s choice “may prove the final blow that takes down this dangerous legislation. Defeating this bill does nothing for the American people or the people of Connecticut, however, unless both the House and Senate get back to regular order and crafting bipartisan fixes to the ACA.’’

Murphy said Cassidy-Graham would be “an absolute humanitarian disaster for Connecticut. Everybody has to stand up to raise the alarm bell and do everything they can to stop this bill.’’

Not dead yet

And Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., urged lawmakers to work across the aisle to forge a bipartisan solution.

Graham-Cassidy “is wrong for Connecticut, and it is wrong for our country,” Esty said. “One party negotiating behind closed doors - shutting out the public — is not the way to serve the families we are sent here to represent.’’

Republicans were far from accepting defeat. Graham, a longtime friend of McCain, said “we press on.’’ On Twitter, Pence called the Republican proposal “the right bill at the right time’’ and said he and President Donald Trump are “undeterred’’ even though “opposition is forming up.’’

Behind the scenes, the White House and top Capitol Hill Republicans were said to be offering deals to other potential defectors in exchange for “yes’’ votes. One such deal with Murkowski was dubbed “the Alaska Purchase.’’

For that reason, Murphy and Blumenthal, said they were not ready to pop Champagne corks.

“The battle is far from over,’’ Blumenthal said. “A number of votes are very much in question, and there’s no end to the politicking and horse trading that’s apparently happening behind the scenes.’’