Republicans unveil long-shot effort on health care

From left, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., hold a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, to unveil legislation to reform health care. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
From left, Republican Senators Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson held a news conference Wednesday to unveil health care reform legislation.

WASHINGTON — Senators on Wednesday rolled out competing plans for the nation’s health care system, with a group of GOP senators making a last, long-shot effort to undo President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont proposing universal government-run coverage.

Despite opposition and little time, Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, proposed legislation that would do away with many of the subsidies and mandates of the 2010 law and instead would provide block grants to the states to help individuals pay for health coverage.

‘‘If you believe repealing and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best and only chance to make it happen because everything else has failed except this approach,’’ Graham told reporters.


The senators said that some states would get more money to provide health care than they get through the current system. They are modeling their effort after the welfare reform legislation passed under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. They said states are better equipped than Washington to determine how best to meet the needs of their residents.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

They also acknowledged they have an uphill battle to get the bill passed before Oct. 1 when the GOP effort to repeal the law loses its protection against Democratic filibusters.

‘‘To my Republican colleagues, don’t let the health care debate die. Don’t leave the field with your tail between your legs. Keep fighting,’’ Graham said.

President Trump lauded the senators’ efforts, but it was unclear how much energy the White House was actually putting into the health care drive with GOP attention shifting to a tax overhaul.

‘‘Inaction is not an option, and I sincerely hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis,’’ Trump said.


The White House issued the statement after Graham used the news conference to urge Trump to ‘‘pick up the phone’’ and round up support from governors.

‘‘Tell them this matters to you, that you weren’t kidding about repealing and replacing Obamacare, that you actually meant it,’’ Graham said. ‘‘So Mr. President, help us because we’re trying to help you.’’

Graham and Cassidy have struggled for weeks to round up sufficient support for their package, although Senators Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, signed on. It would cut and reshape Medicaid, disperse money spent under Obama’s law directly to states, and erase Obama’s penalties on people who don’t purchase coverage.

A third effort, a bipartisan attempt to shore up individual insurance markets around the country, is showing early signs that the sides are having problems reaching agreement.

Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, and Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, hope to reach a deal on continuing for at least a year the federal payments to insurers that Trump has threatened to halt. Republicans are also insisting on easing the Obama law’s coverage requirements, which Democrats oppose.