On Tuesday evening, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said that he was ending bipartisan negotiations for a bill to stabilize health insurance markets and make a few changes to the Affordable Care Act, because after four hearings and involved negotiations, his group had "not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats." The unexpected decision appears aimed at shoring up support for the Senate GOP's last-ditch plan to repeal ObamaCare, sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), by removing any alternative legislation.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the HELP Committee and Alexander's main negotiating partner, said she is "disappointed that Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan TrumpCare bill," adding that she is still committed to reaching a bipartisan deal. Alexander said that especially since Graham-Cassidy gained steam, appetite within his party for his bill was very low. "I know how to get bipartisan results, but I'm not a magician," he said.
Republicans expect to start voting on Graham-Cassidy next Wednesday, Axios reports, before a Sept. 30 deadline for passing a health-care bill with only 50 votes, with no Democrats. The Congressional Budget Office won't have its analysis on how much the bill would affect coverage or its costs for consumers until October. On Tuesday, a group of 11 governors, including five Republicans and independent Gov. Bill Walker (Alaska), urged the Senate to drop Graham-Cassidy, joining AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and other patient advocacy groups, plus Jimmy Kimmel.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are believed to be opposed to the bill, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are seen as the key votes on the measure — three GOP no votes, and it doesn't pass. Haley Bird at the Independent Journal Review notes:
McCain just told us he wants regular order bipartisan health bill and 10 minutes later Republicans killed the regular order bipartisan bill
— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) September 19, 2017
Graham-Cassidy would convert ObamaCare's subsidies and Medicaid payments to block grants to states, allowing each state ample leeway to decide coverage rules and patient protections, plus cut Medicaid sharply and change its structure. Graham argues that it's the last barrier to "socialism." Peter Weber