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Monday, September 25, 2017 1:00 am

Key Republican senators sound off against health bill

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

With party leaders just one “no” vote away from defeat, Republican senators from across the political spectrum distanced themselves from the plan written by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. They voiced opinions ranging from measured skepticism to outright hostility toward a proposal that was already trending toward failure over the last three days.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate Republican who has opposed previous efforts that cut Medicaid and lifted coverage requirements, said in a TV interview that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for the health-care bill.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a conservative who has advocated for a more far-reaching repeal of Obamacare, said he and at least Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, do not back the measure “right now.”

And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has stated definitively that he opposes the current measure, showed no signs of backing down absent dramatic changes to the bill's core approach that likely would come at the cost of other Republican votes.

Graham and Cassidy pledged to keep trying to pass their bill – but the White House and Senate Marjority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave differing accounts of the path ahead. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short predicted a Wednesday vote, while a McConnell spokesman declined to publicly embrace that timeline.

Speaking on CNN's “State of the Union,” Collins cited concerns about how the Cassidy-Graham legislation would affect Medicaid recipients and people with pre-existing medical conditions, among other things.

Collins is a key swing vote in the current dynamic. She said she chatted at length with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to sway her. She said she wants to see the limited analysis due this week from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before she makes a final decision.

Two Republican senators – Paul and John McCain, Ariz. – have already said they would vote against Cassidy-Graham. A third would be enough to defeat the bill, since no Democrats are expected to support it. Republicans hold a 52-48 advantage in the Senate and can lose only two of their own and still pass legislation with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Pence.

The bill has been roundly rejected by influential national groups representing physicians, hospitals and insurers. Over the weekend, six such organizations, including the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association, issued a joint statement urging the Senate to reject it.

Addressing Cassidy-Graham at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Cruz said: “Right now, they don't have my vote. And I don't think they have Mike Lee's either,” referring to one of Utah's senators and a fellow conservative.

Cruz said that he and Lee met with Graham and Cassidy last week to propose changes to the measure that would get them to yes. Their changes were not included in the latest draft.