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Senate panel considers health care bill that may be dead

Eliza Collins and Erin Kelly, USA TODAY
Published 7:00 a.m. ET Sept. 25, 2017 | Updated 7:10 a.m. ET Sept. 25, 2017


On Friday, Arizona Senator John McCain, who delivered the final blow to the previous attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, said he will vote no against his party’s current healthcare plan.

WASHINGTON — The Republican bill to replace Obamacare appears all but dead in the Senate, but the chamber’s Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a Monday hearing on it anyway.

The committee is set to consider health care legislation by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., at 2 p.m.

Graham and Cassidy will speak in favor of their bill along with former Pennsylvania Republican senator Rick Santorum, who helped craft the legislation. 

The 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 also would end in 2020 the expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans that was part of the Affordable Care Act.

Other witnesses Monday will be: Dennis Smith, senior adviser for Medicaid and health care reform in the Arkansas Department of Human Services; Teresa Miller, acting director of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services; Cindy Mann, former deputy administrator and director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Dick Woodruff, senior vice president for federal advocacy at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The hearing is an attempt to create a normal legislative process for a bill that critics say is being rushed through by GOP leaders to meet a Sept. 30 deadline. Republicans have until midnight Saturday to pass legislation under a budget procedure that allows them to approve bills with a simple 51-vote majority.

Most major legislation requires a 60-vote super-majority, meaning at least eight of the 48 Democratic senators have to support the bills. Democratic senators are united against the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

The lone hearing for the bill does not appear to be enough to assuage concerns from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who announced Friday that he will oppose his party’s latest attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. McCain said the bill should have gone through the normal process of public hearings, debates, and rewrites — a process that can take weeks or months.

“Health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate,” McCain said. “Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation that one hearing “isn’t even close to enough.” Collins said on CNN that she can’t imagine supporting the bill.

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

In addition to McCain and Collins, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also said Sunday that they cannot vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill as it is currently written.

Republicans can afford to lose the votes of just two of their 52 GOP senators to pass the bill. Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie in favor of the legislation.

Collins, McCain and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski were the three Republicans who voted against the last attempt to repeal Obamacare in July. Murkowski has not yet indicated which way she will vote, but she has voiced concerns similar to those expressed by Collins.

Collins said Sunday she worries that the legislation will hurt disabled children and low-income seniors who depend on Medicaid and people with pre-existing medical conditions. She said she would like to see the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee work on a bipartisan bill.

The hearing Monday is expected to draw some protesters. Asya Pikovsky, spokeswoman for Center for Popular Democracy, said the liberal group expects to bus in about 250 people for what she called the “sham hearing.” 

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

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?


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