Obamacare repeal’s last gasp at '48 or 49 votes,' senator says

Senior National Affairs Reporter
Yahoo News
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two authors of the GOP’s revised health care bill. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two authors of the GOP’s revised health care bill. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., says his last-ditch attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare is only a few votes shy of 50 and could pass before the fast-approaching Sept. 30 procedural deadline.

“We’re probably at 48, 49 [votes] and we’re talking to three more,” Cassidy told reporters at a briefing Friday morning. “I’m pretty confident we’ll get there on the Republican side.”

But Cassidy, a physician representing a state that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, cautioned that he had not done a formal whip count. He is optimistic after presenting his bill during a lunch on Thursday of GOP senators. At one point, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., told the group he was co-sponsoring the measure even though he’s been urged to “lay low” on health care while facing a tough reelection race back home, Cassidy said. Afterwards, several senators told him they’d vote yes on the bill.

“I told my wife when I got home last night that yesterday may have been my best day as a senator,” Cassidy said.

Another of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is pushing the White House and GOP leadership to champion the bill, Cassidy said. President Trump released a statement earlier this week praising their efforts. “I sincerely hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis,” Trump said.

The bill faces long odds, however, with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., comparing passing it before the deadline to a “double-double bank shot” in pool. There’s also very little chance Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would bring the measure to the floor unless it was guaranteed to pass, not wanting to repeat the spectacle when the Senate’s last attempt at repealing Obamacare failed dramatically in July.

The procedural vehicle that allows a bill to pass with just 51 votes is set to expire at the end of this month, adding urgency to the effort.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Friday morning on Twitter he would not support the bill, which he called “Obamacare Lite.” If just two more GOP senators come out against it, the bill is dead, given that no Democrats support the measure.

“It would take an extraordinary lift to get that done before the deadline but I know there’s a lot of interest in our conference to get something done on that,” Thune, a member of the GOP leadership team, said Tuesday. “The clock’s ticking and it’s a pretty short window.”

The bill repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate, employer mandate and medical device tax. It then combines Obamacare’s different funding streams for states into one block grant that gives states more control over Medicaid and the insurance exchanges.

One result of the plan is that states that refused to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, such as Texas and Virginia, would receive much more funding, which governors could use to cover more low-income residents. Other states, however, would lose billions of dollars of federal funds under the plan, most notably Massachusetts. (One outside analysis found 20 states would lose 35 to 60 percent of their funding compared to current law.) And Congress would have to vote to reauthorize the plan in 2026, or states would lose all of their funding.

“Graham-Cassidy does a much better job of distributing health care dollars fairly,” Cassidy said.

Paul tweeted Friday afternoon that the bill “redistributes money from [Democratic] states to republican states.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet scored the bill, and the Senate parliamentarian would also have to examine it and make sure it’s eligible to pass under the special reconciliation procedure that only needs 51 votes. Vice President Mike Pence would likely be called in to provide the 51st vote if Cassidy and Graham are able to get to 50.

“Mitch [McConnell] has always said show me you can get 50 votes,” Cassidy said. “I’m meeting with senators. My staff is calling staff, whatever we can do to make sure we have 50.”

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