Heller Thinks Senate GOP Can Repeal Obamacare, Gain Three Seats

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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Nevada Sen. Dean Heller thinks Republicans can pick up a few seats in the Senate this year and repeal and replace Obamacare in 2019, he told reporters Thursday.

“I think at the end of the day, we end up with 53, 54 seats,” Heller told The Las Vegas-Review Journal Thursday. “If we can do that, then we can repeal and replace and change the ACA as we know it today.”

Senate Republicans were repeatedly unable to repeal Obamacare using the chamber’s budget reconciliation rules in 2017. Reconciliation allows leadership to pass legislation with a simple majority vote and bypass filibusters from the minority party.

Heller joined GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in the party’s final health care overhaul attempt of 2017.

Had it passed, the bill would have replaced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, subsidies for private insurance companies (cost-sharing reductions), and tax-credits for middle-income Americans with block grants. Starting in 2020, the new funding mechanism would have provided 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 did not provide permanent funding for the block grant program, which lawmakers would have to address again in 2026.

Despite offering a more watered down version of repeal, the coalition of Republican senators were unable to whip enough colleagues to meet the 51 vote threshold November 2017. The caucus will move on from repealing Obamacare, unless the makeup of the Senate changes such that it becomes a more feasible goal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The numerous failures — along with Republican leadership’s commitment to touting the individual mandate repeal in the GOP tax reform bill as a full repeal of Obamacare — make Heller’s comments all the more interesting. Heller was against a number of the initial Republican repeal attempts in 2017, only to come around at the eleventh-hour to co-sponsor the Graham-Cassidy legislation.

Heller’s seat is considered a possible tossup in the upcoming midterm elections. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the state by four percentage points. The senator was also critical of President Donald Trump while he was campaigning for the White House in 2016.

Despite some unease with the administration, Vice President Mike Pence is slated to fundraise for Heller in Nevada next week.

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