Even with changes, GOP hopes for health bill flickering out

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) reiterated his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy health bill on Monday. Adam Beam, AP.

Washington (AP) — The Republican drive to tear down President Barack Obama's health care law was flickering out Monday as a decisive handful of GOP senators remained opposed to the last-gasp bill. Changes aimed at galvanizing GOP support produced no apparent additional votes as time was running out for the White House and party leaders.

"We don't have the support for it," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters as Republican assessments of their chances grew increasingly gloomy.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he'd not abandoned his previously announced opposition to the measure, despite the revisions and energetic lobbying by President Donald Trump and White House officials. He complained that the bill spent too much and said Republicans were motivated by fear of punishment by conservative voters if they didn't succeed.

"It's like a kidney stone. Pass it, pass it, pass it," Paul told reporters.

Yelling protesters forced the Senate Finance Committee to briefly delay the chamber's first and only hearing on the charged issue. Police lugged some demonstrators out of the hearing room and trundled out others in wheelchairs as scores chanted, "No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty."

For more information on this topic, see Trump lashes out at McCain, GOP health bill dangles by a slender thread and John McCain to the rescue - again.

Protesters, many in wheelchairs, rally before a hearing by the Senate Finance Committee on the Graham-Cassidy health bill. J. Scott Applewhite, AP.

The electricity in the room captured the high stakes as the two parties battle over whether to defend or obliterate Obama's 2010 overhaul. Three July failures by Republicans to push earlier bills through the Senate led Democrats to rejoice and infuriated conservatives, prompting President Donald Trump to repeatedly savage GOP senators who blocked the party's years old goal of repeal.

Republicans have pinned their last hopes on a measure by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. The measure would end Obama's Medicaid expansion and subsidies for consumers and ship the money — $1.2 trillion through 2026 — to states to use on health services with few constraints.

Overnight, the sponsors added billions of extra dollars for states and language easing Obama's coverage requirements in hopes of winning over wavering GOP senators.

But by Monday afternoon, Paul and GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona remained against the measure. Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins seemed a certain opponent, Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski was undecided and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was opposed but senior aides said he was looking for changes so he could vote yes.

With their narrow 52-48 majority and solid Democratic opposition, three GOP "no" votes would doom the bill.

The Senate must vote this week for Republicans to have any chance of prevailing with their narrow margin. Next Sunday, protections expire against a Democratic filibuster, bill-killing delays that Republicans lack the votes to overcome.

On Monday, Trump took on McCain, who'd returned to the Senate after a brain cancer diagnosis in July to cast the key vote that wrecked this summer's GOP effort. Trump called that "a tremendous slap in the face of the Republican party" in a call to the "Rick & Bubba Show," an Alabama-based talk radio program.

Cassidy and Graham defended their bill before the Finance committee.

"I don't need a lecture from anybody about health care," Graham told the panel's Democrats, whose party uniformly opposes the measure. Referring to Obama's 2010 overhaul, he added, "What you have created isn't working."

Also appearing was Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who learned earlier this year that she has kidney cancer. She said colleagues and others have helped her battle the disease with compassion, saying, "Sadly, this is not in this bill."

Republicans provided documents stating that 34 states would get more health money under the bill than under Obama's law. Those included Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Maine and Texas — home to senators whose votes leaders were laboring to win.

Democrats said the GOP numbers were deceptive because they omitted the impact of cuts Republicans would impose on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Senior aides said Cruz still wanted additional steps to let insurers sell low-premium policies with sparse coverage, which Obama's statute forbids.

Graham and Cassidy's revamped proposal gives states more freedom to charge higher premiums for older and seriously ill people and to sell skimpy, lower-cost policies. The initial version, required federal approval for such action. It would also let states unilaterally raise limits Obama's law has placed on consumers' out-of-pocket costs.

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Associated Press Washington bureau chief Julie Pace and writers Andrew Taylor, Richard Lardner, Laurie Kellman and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

By Alan Fram, Associated Press. Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Gayly – September 25, 2017 @ 5:15 p.m. CDT.