Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced Friday that he would oppose the latest Obamacare repeal measure, dealing a major blow to the legislation’s prospects of getting 50 votes on the Senate floor next week.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said in a statement.
The legislation, drafted by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — McCain’s closest friend in the Senate — is the Senate GOP’s last best chance at passing a bill dismantling the Affordable Care Act before a Sept. 30 deadline. But conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already announced his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill — shredding the plan to reporters, in op-eds and through Twitter. And moderate Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is already viewed as a hard “no” on the measure, said at an event in her home state Friday that she is “leaning against” Graham-Cassidy , according to the Portland Press-Herald.
Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-seat majority in the chamber, can only lose two votes and still pass the repeal measure. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has also remained a key holdout on Graham-Cassidy, which is uniformly opposed by Senate Democrats.
Aides to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he intends to hold a vote on Graham-Cassidy next week in the Senate. His office did not immediately respond to questions about whether he will hold the vote next week despite McCain’s opposition.
The Senate Finance Committee, for now, has not changed plans to hold a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill on Monday.
In a lengthy statement Friday, McCain reiterated concerns about the process in which the legislation was drafted that he laid out in July when he voted against another Obamacare repeal plan.
McCain said he could not support the bill “without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”
“I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it,” he continued. “The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.”
The Arizona Republican pointed to bipartisan talks to stabilize the health care law led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). McCain expressed concern that pushing through a GOP-only repeal bill left the impression that those bipartisan negotiations couldn’t succeed. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said earlier this week that he and Murray were unable to reach consensus on a bill.
“John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. “I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process.”
In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, Graham said he “respectfully” disagrees with McCain’s decision to oppose his bill.
“My friendship with [McCain] is not based on how he votes but respect for how he’s lived his life and the person he is,” Graham said. “I know Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson is the best chance to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is collapsing in Arizona, South Carolina and across the nation — driving up premiums and reducing choices.”
Senate Republicans failed on their last Obamacare repeal attempt in July when McCain, Murkowski and Collins teamed up to tank the so-called “skinny repeal” plan.
But unlike then, it’s not clear whether McConnell could even open debate on the bill this time. More than a half-dozen senators were not committal or non-responsive to inquiries Friday about how they would vote for the motion to proceed to the House-passed repeal bill.
However, even though Paul opposes the Graham-Cassidy proposal, he is undecided on the procedural vote, an aide said. Paul wants to vote again on fully repealing Obamacare with no replacement. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is also undecided on both the procedural vote and the Graham-Cassidy product.
Republicans had been scrambling to make good on their seven-year campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare by Sept. 30, when their fast-track legislative authority to pass a bill with only a simple majority votes will expire. After the end of the month, repeal legislation would need 60 votes.
The GOP wants to use the procedure, called reconciliation, next year to pass tax reform. But the Obamacare failure could spur some in the party to try to revisit repeal.
In the latest repeal effort, Republicans have tried desperately to win over Murkowski in particular.
The Graham-Cassidy bill allowed Alaska and a handful of other states with low population density to potentially opt out of the law’s significant cuts to Medicaid until 2026. It’s unclear whether that provision would have been enough to address Murkowski’s concern that Alaskans would have less access to health care under the bill.
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