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House Republicans 'cautiously optimistic' about new Senate push for Obamacare repeal

Rep. Evan Jenkins spoke to WCHS from Capitol Hill on Sep. 13, 2017. (SBG)

As a group of Republican senators launch a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act before the end of the month, some colleagues in the House see little reason to expect this fight will end differently than the last.

“I can’t say I’m confident the Senate’s going to pass a bill,” said Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.V. “They fell down on their faces on the last try.”

Earlier this summer, Senate Republicans fell one vote shy of passing legislation to repeal elements of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, but four GOP senators said Wednesday that they have another proposal worthy of consideration.

“It should have been our first bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it is now our last,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at a press conference.

The bill, sponsored by Graham alongside Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), would turn billions of dollars in subsidies and tax credits provided by the ACA into block grants, giving state governments more latitude in how to disperse them.

Critics say this would result in fewer federal dollars being provided for health care than under current law, but proponents argue it would reverse some of the less popular aspects of Obamacare like the individual mandate while preserving others like protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Due to procedural rules in the Senate, Republicans could lose their window to pass health care reform with a simple majority if they do not vote on the bill by Sep. 30, and Democrats have no desire to help undo President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Graham told reporters Wednesday that he believes that timeline can be met, and the White House has expressed support for the measure.

“As I have continued to say, inaction is not an option, and I sincerely hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis,” President Donald Trump said in a statement Wednesday.

House Republicans are trying not to get their hopes up.

“There’s always 11th hour talk,” said Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V. “It’s obviously going to be a heavy lift.”

According to Jenkins, party leadership seemed “cautiously optimistic” at conference meetings on Wednesday morning and there is a sense of that they may have the time and momentum to get it done.

“We promised to repeal and replace Obamacare when we got these jobs,” Mooney said, adding that if Republicans fail to honor that promise, successful tax reform becomes more urgent.

Democrats in the Senate unveiled their own health care reform proposal Wednesday, one that has even less chance of making it through the current Congress.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., flanked by more than a dozen Democratic senators, pitched a “Medicare for All” proposal at an afternoon press conference.

“At a time when millions of Americans do not have access to affordable health care, the Republicans, funded by the Koch brothers, are trying to take away health care from up to 32 million more,” Sanders said. “We have a better idea: guarantee health care to all people as a right, not a privilege, through a Medicare for All, single-payer health care program.”

Rep. Susan Bonamici, D-Ore., said Sanders’ bill opens an important conversation about how to provide health care for all Americans.

“In a country like the U.S., there’s no reason why people should be without access to health care,” she said.

While some prominent Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, stood by Sanders’ side, party leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have so far been reluctant to embrace the Medicare for All approach.


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