WASHINGTON ― The renewed push to pass a health care overhaul in the Senate is running into the same old problem Republicans have faced all along: They don’t have the votes, and if they can’t win over Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), their repeal effort looks doomed.
Even as Republicans projected optimism on Tuesday, there were signs their confidence might be less than genuine. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked if he would commit to bring to the floor this latest bill ― which would hand over federal dollars to the states to manage health care ― McConnell said lawmakers were in the process of discussing that.
Republicans are trying to use the budget reconciliation process to move this legislation, meaning they need only 51 votes in the Senate ― and that includes Vice President Mike Pence’s yes vote to break a tie. But the fiscal 2017 budget resolution allowing them to use this process expires at the end of fiscal 2017.
“If we were going to go forward, we’d have to act before Sept. 30th,” McConnell said.
If Democrats and some Republicans were able to run out the clock on this latest proposal, however, GOP leadership could still come back with another health care budget resolution on which to hang another attempt to repeal Obamacare through the reconciliation process. In other words, even if the bill authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) dies, it can come back to life again, like just about every other GOP health care plan.
For now, Republicans are using the Sept. 30 deadline to try to pressure their colleagues into voting for the Graham-Cassidy legislation before it has received a hearing, a markup or a full assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. Those procedural problems have been significant enough for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to suggest he’d vote no on the proposal, although his position could change if Republican leaders were able to win over Murkowski.
With Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) looking largely unpersuadable, McConnell can’t afford to lose Murkowski. And if he can’t convince her to vote yes, there’s no point pressuring McCain.
All along, GOP leaders have figured that Paul and Collins would be the two Republican senators to vote against a health care proposal ― Collins because it went too far in repealing Obamacare, Paul because it didn’t go far enough.
But with Murkowski, the idea has always been to buy her off somehow. Health…