- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2017

Protesters upended the GOP’s sole hearing on a last-gasp Obamacare repeal right as the gavel fell Monday, forcing its Republican chairman to recess the session until he could get order.

“No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!” the protesters chanted repeatedly.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, tried to restore order by banging the gavel but then waited for Capitol Police to break it up.

“If you want a hearing, you better shut up,” Mr. Hatch said.

Police could be seen on C-SPAN cameras rolling protesters in wheelchairs out into the hallway.

Activists and grassroots groups are trying to run out the clock on faltering GOP efforts to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are pushing a Hail Mary plan that would pool money currently being used to subsidize Obamacare customers and expand Medicaid in parts of the country, before siphoning it back to the states as block grants.

Critics of the bill say millions will lose coverage due to per-person caps on Medicaid insurance for the poor and potential changes to consumer protections enshrined in Obamacare.

Many states would see fewer federal dollars over time, though some states that declined to expand Medicaid would win out.

Mr. Hatch resumed the hearing after 20-minute delay — a loud protester in the hall frustrated his efforts to deliver an opening statement — by calling for comity.

“The purpose of a hearing is to respectfully discuss ideas and become better informed on particular issues. It does not mean that everyone shares the same views and opinions,” he said. “In fact, I expect that quite a few disagreements will be expressed today. And that is OK.”

From the witness table, Mr. Graham said his bill would set Medicaid on a more sustainable path and provide relief on Obamacare markets reeling from rising rates and dwindling choices.

“If somebody doesn’t fix Obamacare soon, the majority counties are going to be down to one provider. It is collapsing as we speak,” he testified.

Yet it faces slim chances of getting through the Senate before a Saturday deadline to act under the 2017 budget and avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona have said they will vote against the proposal, while Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said it will be “very difficult” for her to back it. GOP leaders cannot afford to lose more than two senators from their 52-seat majority.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, is another key holdout who will be tough to get to “yes.”

Democrats say the GOP is struggling because they’re trying to jam through an unpopular, last-ditch bill that mainly satisfies donors who expected repeal during the first year of President Trump’s term.

“Nobody’s got to buy a lemon just because it’s the last car on the lot,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release topline figures on the plan’s fiscal impact later Monday, though senators won’t have a full analysis of the bill before potential votes this week.

Opponents of the bill formed a such a long line outside the hearing room that snaked all the way to an adjoining Senate office building. The crowd clogged parts of the hallway and attracted a large Capitol Police presence.

Mr. Wyden complained about the size of the hearing room, asserting it could only accommodate 30 members of the public despite intense interest.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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