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McCain to oppose Obamacare repeal, possibly dooming GOP effort

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves a meeting of Senate Republicans, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves a meeting of Senate Republicans, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
By Steven T. Dennis and Laura Litvan Bloomberg

Sen. John McCain said Friday he’ll vote against the GOP-only Obamacare repeal proposal, becoming the second Republican to oppose the measure and possibly dooming the ability of party leaders to enact it.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” McCain of Arizona said in a statement. “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.”

McCain joins Kentucky Republican Rand Paul in opposing the bill, while Susan Collins of Maine said Friday she is leaning against it, according to a Portland newspaper. Senate Republicans can afford to lose no more than two members of their 52-48 majority and pass the bill.

The statement recalls McCain’s dramatic return to Washington in July after a brain-cancer diagnosis, when he cast the decisive “no” vote to send a health plan by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell down to a stunning 49-51 defeat.

The GOP drive to gut the Affordable Care Act is using a dramatically short-circuited process that seeks to replace one landmark health law with another introduced just two weeks ago by Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

McConnell had said earlier this week that he intended to hold a Senate vote next week before a Sept. 30 deadline to use a fast-track procedure allowing a simple majority vote. David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about McCain’s decision.

President Donald Trump warned on Twitter on Friday, “Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as ‘the Republican who saved ObamaCare.’” The president is working the phone on the issue and is “open to having face-to-face meetings,” adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News. “The president is leaning in all the way.”

The White House “just wants a legislative victory, they’re not as concerned with the policy” in the bill, Paul told the Associated Press after Trump’s tweet.

The Brookings Institution estimated Friday that the Graham-Cassidy plan would reduce the number of people with health coverage by about 21 million a year from 2020 through 2026. The number may be larger, it said, because of difficulties in setting up state health systems by 2020 and possible market turmoil in the final years. “What is clear, however, is that the legislation would result in very large reductions in insurance coverage,” Brookings said.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Medicaid funding cuts would equal 16 percent of projected state budgets in 2027. “That’s more than what states provide for higher education,” it said.

McCain said he would consider supporting a proposal similar to the Graham-Cassidy bill if it were “the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case.”

“We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009,” McCain said.

Collins criticized the bill because among other things it undermines protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions, according to the Portland Press Herald. “The premiums would be so high they would be unaffordable,” she said.

Collins’ office said she doesn’t plan to issue any further statement Friday. Another key holdout, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has no immediate plan to announce her position, her office said. Collins and Murkowski were the other two Republicans who opposed McConnell’s bill in July.

Democrats have denounced the lightning-speed path to a vote, with only one committee hearing on the bill scheduled. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the “dead of night” bill’s spending cuts will cause millions of Americans to lose insurance coverage and burden the finances of his state and many others.

The new proposal would turn Obamacare funds into block grants for the states, which would create their own health-care plans for their residents. States that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare would be hardest hit by spending cuts, losing $180 billion from 2020 to 2026, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. States that rejected the Medicaid expansion would gain $73 billion.

The measure would end the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that individuals have insurance and that most employers provide it.

It also would end the guarantee that people with pre-existing medical conditions can’t be charged more for insurance. A public dispute between TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel, whose infant son has a congenital heart defect, and the Senate sponsors took on bitter personal terms this week and demonstrated how little is understood about the legislation.

“Thank you @SenJohnMcCain for being a hero again and again and now AGAIN,” Kimmel wrote on Twitter Friday after McCain’s announcement.

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