Six GOP Senators Who Could Kill Obamacare Repeal, Replace

With two 'no' votes already locked in, one more of these Republicans would nix health care reform

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 17 Jul 2017 at 7:22 AM

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This week will be a critical, potentially decisive time for long-running Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

An analysis of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act by the Congressional Budget Office could come this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to hold a procedural vote but postponed that over the weekend to give time for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to recover from surgery.

The delay likely will only add to the pressure facing wavering senators. With Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) already “no” votes, the defection of one more GOP senator would kill the bill in its infancy. The public reaction of undecided senators last week suggests McConnell faces long odds.

Here is a look at six senators to watch as the debate plays out:

Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
Heller told reporters on Thursday that he was going to read the bill over the weekend. Last month, he said it was "going to be very difficult to get me to a 'yes.'" He had expressed concerns about changes to Medicaid that would slow the increase in federal spending on the health program for the poor. Those changes remained in the bill released last month.

Heller's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, strongly supports the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of enrollees in the expansion population; that would be phased out beginning in 2020.

In addition, Heller might be the most vulnerable Senate Republican up for re-election next year. He won his first term in 2012 by just 11,576 votes and almost certainly will draw a strong challenger in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton won last year and has been trending toward Democrats in recent years.

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
Murkowski has kept a low profile since McConnell unveiled the latest draft of the health bill. But the moderate Alaskan indicated last month that she would oppose a health bill that cut funding to Planned Parenthood, as this bill would for one year.

Murkowksi said in a June 22 statement that health reform "needs to be done right."

"Any health care bill to replace Obamacare must provide access to affordable health care coverage for West Virginians, including our large Medicaid population and those struggling with drug addiction."

The latest bill, though, does have a provision that seems designed to lure Murkowski. It would give federal funds to insurance companies in any state where premiums are at least 75 percent higher than the national average. In 2017, Alaska is the only state that would qualify; premiums average $1.041 a month, compared with a national average of $476.

Whether that is enough to win Murkowski's vote remains to be seen.

Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
Capito hails from a state that President Donald Trump won overwhelmingly last year, but it also has a ton of working-class residents that experts contend would pay more for health insurance under the Republican plan.

West Virginia expanded Medicaid and has seen one of the nation's steepest decreases in the rate of uninsured residents.

Capito said in a statement on Thursday that she opposed the earlier draft of the Senate bill, adding that she would review the current version and wait for the Congressional Budget Office analysis.

"Any health care bill to replace Obamacare must provide access to affordable health care coverage for West Virginians, including our large Medicaid population and those struggling with drug addiction," she stated.

Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
Portman is another senator from a state with a Republican governor who strongly supports the Medicaid expansion. That governor, John Kasich, issued a statement Friday calling the bill "still unacceptable" because of cuts to Medicaid.

Portman, who opposed last month's version of the Senate bill, was noncommittal last week.

"We'll see," Portman told NBC News. "I'm the same position as I've been in. Looking at the language and looking forward to the analysis."

As they did with Murkowski in Alaska, Senate leaders included a sweetener for Portman — $45 billion in new funding to combat the opioid addiction problem. The epidemic has hit Ohio hard, and Portman made it a central focus of his re-election campaign last year.

Mike Lee (R-Utah)
Lee is firmly on the side of the GOP caucus that advocates full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He joined Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in proposing an amendment that would let states give permission to insurance companies to sell cheaper, less comprehensive policies as long as they also continue to sell plans that comply with Obamacare's regulations. (go to page 2 to continue reading)

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