By Bryn Stole
Louisiana's Bill Cassidy and the three Republican U.S. Senate colleagues backing his Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan framed the measure they unveiled Wednesday as Republican's "last shot" at scrapping the sweeping 2010 Democratic health insurance law.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, the plan's leading author, took jabs at his party's leaders -- the White House has been largely quiet on the proposal and Senate Republican leaders have left it largely up to the gang backing the bill to drum up the needed votes -- amid pleas for support.
Graham, Cassidy and co-sponsors Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also described their bill as the only alternative to proposals for national single-payer health insurance that have quickly gained traction among liberals and Democrats.
"Behind me is the only thing that stands between you and single payer -- a small band of brothers in search of a sister," Graham quipped to open the press conference, gesturing at Heller, Johnson, Cassidy and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, who's been lobbying on behalf of the bill.
"Liberals will fight like tigers to the bitter end to get what they want," Graham added.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who launched an insurgent populist campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, also picked Wednesday to unveil his own, very different health insurance proposal, a generous government-backed initiative billed as "Medicare-for-all."
Conservatives have described a single-payer insurance plan in grim terms, labeling it a massive government takeover of the country's healthcare system that would strangle out individual choice.
Cassidy, a physician and Baton Rouge Republican who's devoted long hours to hammering out a Republican alternative to Obamacare, walked reporters through the proposal.
The plan centers around block-granting billions of dollars in Obamacare taxes that currently fund states' Medicaid expansions and individual health insurance subsidies. The money would be funneled through the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, a long-standing block grant to provide care for low- and moderate-income children.
The block-grant formula would generally redistribute money away from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare and spread them across the country, boosting the amount of federal money headed to states -- largely controlled by Republicans -- that refused to expand Medicaid.
Cassidy, in rejecting criticism of the proposal as "partisan," said Democratic senators from purple states where Republican governors or legislatures blocked Medicaid expansion -- a list that includes Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana -- should back the plan because of the increased money.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded Medicaid in the state in 2016, shortly after taking office. Edwards' predecessor, Bobby Jindal, had opposed expanding the program.
Cassidy had previously said Louisiana would come out "about even" in terms of federal dollars under the bill, though he's since reworked the block grant formulas.
The Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the bill and independent state-by-state analyses of the bill's impact weren't immediately available Wednesday afternoon.
Cassidy acknowledged that any Democratic support for the bill was highly unlikely. Cassidy said he's had discussions with Edwards about the law but didn't anticipate the endorsement of the governor -- or any other Democratic governors or U.S. senators.
Instead, Santorum and the four senators pleaded with their Republican colleagues to rally around the bill, which they described as the party's final shot at fulfilling years of campaign promises to kill Obamacare.
Because of the Republican Party's narrow 52-seat majority in the Senate, the bill needs near-unanimous support to pass. It also faces a looming September 30 deadline to pass on a party-line, simple-majority vote under a procedure known as reconciliation. After that date, the plan would require 60 votes to pass, a near impossibility given unified Democratic opposition.
A number of Senate Republicans have expressed skepticism about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal, most suggesting the crunching deadline made passage unlikely and that the party has moved on to other priorities, including tax reform.
(c)2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.