GOP Only 2 Votes Away From Replacing Obamacare

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana told reporters Friday morning that his bill to replace Obamacare is only two votes shy of passing the Senate.

“I am pretty confident we’ll get there on the Republican side,” Cassidy told reporters Friday. “We’re probably at 48-49 and talking to two or three more.”

Cassidy, along with GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, released legislation Wednesday to repeal and replace major portions of Obamacare with a system of block grants, a first step towards making good on a seven-year Republican campaign promise.

The bill would replace Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, subsidies for private insurance companies (cost-sharing reductions) and tax-credits for middle-income Americans with block grants. The new funding mechanism would start in 2020 and would provide states with the opportunity to apply for grants from a pool of $136 billion. That pool would grow nearly 50 percent in six years, reaching $200 billion in 2026. The legislation does not provide permanent funding for the block grant program, and funding would have to be addressed again in 2026.

Senate Republicans were never able to pass the 50-vote threshold needed under the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules to repeal and replace, or even simply repeal, Obamacare in late July.

Republicans seven month long effort to upend the American health care system failed in late July, after three Republican senators – John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – shot down the party’s third and final (until now) proposal to repeal Obamacare in a contentious 49-51 vote.

Senators have roughly 10 legislative days left for pushing legislation through reconciliation, which requires only 50 yes votes and allows leadership to bypass Democratic filibusters.

While Cassidy is putting forth an optimistic message, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called Republicans’ new bill “Obamacare Lite” Friday, hammering the same message he did in the last three repeal attempts in the Senate.

Republican leadership in the Senate has not thrown its support behind the measure just yet. Graham told reporters Wednesday at the Capitol that McConnell has told him to get to 50, and, at the point, he may decide to move forward with the legislation.

The South Carolina senator publicly called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying that the only thing stopping this bill from getting to the floor of the Senate is lack of leadership.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Thursday that he would count Republican votes to provide leadership with an initial pulse to see how much support the bill was garnering.

Graham and Cassidy are urging the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to score the bill as soon as possible. Even if they are able to get the CBO to provide an analysis within the next few days, the bill has yet to have a public hearing in any congressional committee, which was a chief criticism of the Republicans’ recent efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

As the Republican senators continue to push their last-ditch effort to overhaul the American health care system, Democrats are rallying behind legislation that aims to expand Medicare and create a single-payer health care system in America. The bill is known as “Medicare-For-All,” and is championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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