GOP health care bill appears doomed as Collins, Cruz express doubts

Published by: 0

Maine Sen. Susan Collins said on CNN that she is likely to become the crucial third GOP vote against the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Share

Sen. Susan Collins said it would be “very difficult” to envision a scenario where she would vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators indicated Sunday they are unlikely to support the latest Republican bill to replace Obamacare, making it likely that GOP leaders’ last-ditch effort to pass a key campaign promise will fail.

“It’s very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill,” moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said on CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show. “I have a number of serious reservations about it.”

Perhaps more surprisingly, conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival on Sunday that GOP leaders do not have his vote on the bill by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Cruz, who expressed concern that the bill will not bring down rising health insurance premiums, said the vote of his close friend, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is also in doubt.

“Right now, they don’t have my vote, and I don’t think they have Mike Lee’s vote either,” 
Cruz said at the Texas event, which was live-streamed. Lee’s spokesman, Conn Carroll, said Sunday that Lee is undecided and is trying to negotiate changes to the bill.

However, Cruz also indicated that GOP leaders could still win his vote if they put in some provisions that he and Lee have requested. Those provisions were briefly added last week before quickly being removed again, Cruz said. He did not give details, other than to say the changes were designed to lower insurance premiums.

If Collins and Cruz end up opposing the bill, Republican leaders would fall short of the 50 votes they need to pass the bill. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have already come out against the legislation, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is undecided.

There are 52 Republican senators, meaning that GOP leaders can only lose two of their members if they hope to pass the bill. Democrats are united in their opposition to the proposal.

While Cruz may still be swayed, Collins indicated that her vote would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to win. She said Vice President Pence lobbied her to support the bill in a lengthy phone call on Saturday, but he did not allay her concerns.

Collins, who was a key vote in defeating an earlier bill in July, said she will make up her mind Monday after an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is released. But she said she has serious concerns that the legislation will hurt disabled children and low-income seniors who depend on Medicaid and people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“You know, my focus is on improving our health care system, and what I would like to see us do is return to the very good work that the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee was doing under Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray,” Collins said. “I see the work we’re doing in the HELP Committee as the path forward.”

Alexander, R-Tenn., pulled the plug Tuesday on efforts to craft a bipartisan bill with Murray, D-Wash., to stabilize the individual health insurance market. He said that he and Murray hadn’t been able to reach a quick deal and that he was hoping to support the Graham-Cassidy bill.

“I am disappointed that Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan Trumpcare bill, but I am confident that we can reach a deal if we keep working together — and I am committed to getting that done,” Murray said last week.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would keep most of the taxes that fund Obamacare in place but give the money to states in the form of block grants to craft their own health care insurance systems. It would also end in 2020 the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans under Obamacare.

“I don’t think block-granting Obamacare — it doesn’t make it go away,” Paul said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “This is a bad idea. It’s not repeal.”

Paul said if Graham and Cassidy removed the block-grant provisions he would consider supporting it. Some Republicans seized on that Sunday, saying there is hope that Paul could change his mind and support the bill. However, the block-grant provisions are the heart of the bill, so stripping them out would essentially gut the legislation and seems unlikely.

“I’m just not for this block-granting concept,” Paul said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on CBS’ Face the Nation that negotiations on the bill are continuing and changes could be made.

Gardner refuted comments by some Republicans that GOP senators must repeal and replace Obamacare to appease angry GOP donors.

“This has nothing to do with politics; it has nothing to do with donors,” Gardner said on CBS.

Republicans must act by midnight Saturday if they want to pass a bill to replace Obamacare using a process that requires just 51 votes — rather than the usual 60-vote super-majority.  Pence could break a 50-50 tie in favor of the bill.

A vote has not yet been scheduled, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor this week. That may change if McConnell decides he does not have enough votes to pass the legislation.

President Trump, asked by reporters Sunday evening whether he thinks the Senate will pass the bill, took another swipe at McCain, saying the senator is voting against the legislation “for whatever reason.” Trump said the legislation would be particularly good for Arizona, Maine and Alaska despite reservations by McCain, Collins and possibly Murkowski.

“So I don’t know what they’re doing, but you know what? Eventually we’ll win, whether it’s now or later,” Trump said. He added that his “primary focus” is now tax cuts.

Contributing: Eliza Collins

More: John McCain says he is a “no” on Graham-Cassidy bill, leaving Obamacare repeal in peril

More: What would the Graham-Cassidy health care bill mean for you?

More: Senators scrap bipartisan effort to stabilize Obamacare markets, saying no deal was possible