- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2017

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has scheduled a Sept. 26 hearing on how states can reduce their health care costs through block grants, a move viewed as a table-setter for a potential vote on the last-gasp Obamacare repeal bill he is pushing with three fellow Republicans.

Mr. Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and his cosponsors say the bill known as “Graham-Cassidy” is Congress’s best chance to devolve power from Washington to governors by replacing the 2010 Affordable Care Act with block grants to the states.

Republicans have until the end of this month to use their fiscal 2017 budget to pass an Obamacare repeal bill while avoiding a Democratic filibuster, meaning the hearing before Mr. Johnson’s committee will be held four days before the deadline.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana say they are just one or two votes shy of the 50 GOP votes they need, with Vice President Mike Pence serving as tie-breaker.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican facing re-election next year, backed the bill early Monday, giving it a dose of momentum while sparking an even louder backlash from progressive voices who beat back earlier repeal attempts.

Yet Arizona’s other senator —John McCain, a Republican who dashed President Trump’s repeal hopes in July — says he wants to see hearings and bipartisan cooperation on any bill to overhaul health care.

Grass-roots groups who’ve been fighting the repeal effort say the process used to push Graham-Cassidy still doesn’t meet Mr. McCain’s test.

For instance, the Congressional Budget Office still hasn’t estimated the bill’s impact on spending and health coverage.

In a letter to CBO Director Keith Hall, leading Democrats urged his office not to cut any corners as Republicans seek a fast-track review of the bill.

“A comprehensive CBO analysis is essential before Republicans force a hasty, dangerous vote on what is an extreme and destructive repeal bill. Members of Congress and the American people need to know the full consequences of Graham-Cassidy before any vote,” the letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the top Democrats on the House and Senate budget committees said.

The bill still faces long odds, despite the 11th-hour push.

Republicans senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Mr. McCain in voting against a limited repeal bill last time around, so they could be tough to bring around on Graham-Cassidy.

Meanwhile Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, doubled down on his opposition in a series of tweets Monday, saying it wasn’t conservative enough.

Under the plan, Obamacare money that pays for an expansion of Medicaid and that subsidizes coverage for many of those who buy insurance on the exchanges would be pooled and instead given to states as block grants. The states would tailor the money to their own health care plans.

The bill would immediately repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate requiring people to get coverage or pay a tax and its rule requiring large employers to provide coverage or face crippling penalties. It also scraps the 2010 law’s tax on medical device sales, though its other levies are kept in place.

Funding would be block-granted to the states based on their share of people who earn 50 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Starting in 2024, the level of funding would be partly based on enrollment levels.

By 2026, the funding formula would put states on a level playing field, lifting states that couldn’t afford to pay 10 percent of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and reining in high-spending states.

Democrats pointed to studies that suggest some states could see deep cuts, meaning it would be harder to maintain levels of coverage.

“Trumpcare is back, and it’s meaner than ever,” Mr. Schumer said. “The GOP’s latest attempt to cut backroom deals that strip health care away from millions of Americans should be a red-siren for families across the country that their health care is on the line.”

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