- Alice Ollsteinpolitics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare.
Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying Republican senators to support the latest healthcare plan, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, named after its main architects, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The last-ditch effort by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has to be done by September 30, when a deadline allowing the Senate to pass the legislation by a simple majority expires. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the bill would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, gut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs to individuals, all while showering tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. The New York Times editorial board wrote on Tuesday, “It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill.” We speak with Alice Ollstein, a politics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare. Her recent piece is titled “Where Things Stand with the Senate’s Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal Push.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we turn now to Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill lobbying Republican senators to support the latest healthcare plan. It’s known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, after its main architects, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the Graham-Cassidy bill would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, gut Medicaid, eliminate or weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs to individuals, all while showering tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. As The New York Times editorial board wrote in a piece published Tuesday, quote, “It is hard to overstate the cruelty of the Graham-Cassidy bill.” On Tuesday, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel railed against the Republican healthcare bill.
JIMMY KIMMEL: Now, I don’t know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a healthcare bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants “coverage for all,” “no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions,” “lower premiums for middle-class families” and “no lifetime caps.” And guess what. The new bill does none of those things. … And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.
Do you believe every that American, regardless of income, should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, etc., all of those things that people who have healthcare get and need?
SEN. BILL CASSIDY: Yep.
JIMMY KIMMEL: So “yep” is Washington for “no.” … Stop using my name, OK? Because I don’t want my name on it. There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you. It’s called a lie detector test.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who, to say the least, does not find healthcare funny, with his infant baby son born with heart disease, and he’s made this one of his most important issues, just returning to late night to talk about this bill.
An administration official told CNN Tuesday President Trump is prepared to sign the Graham-Cassidy bill if it reaches his desk. But first, Republican senators have to muster enough votes to pass the bill by September 30th, when a deadline allowing the Senate to pass the legislation by a simple majority expires.
As our next guest writes, “They’re close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” Alice Ollstein is the politics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare. Her recent piece is headlined “Where Things Stand with the Senate’s Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal Push.”
OK, Alice, where do they stand?
ALICE OLLSTEIN: Well, like I said, they are close, but I think we should take with a grain of salt that the people saying, “Oh, we’re extremely close,” are the authors of the bill themselves. And I think they are assuming that everyone who voted for this last—this previous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the so-called skinny repeal bill, will vote for this bill. But there’s a key difference. The skinny repeal bill was pitched as simply a way to advance the process, to get to conference with the House and to keep making tweaks and improving it. This is presented as a final bill. And like you said, the clock is ticking. They have to finish this by the end of the month, if they want to use the 50-vote threshold. So, this is it. And I think that some senators will be scared away by that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Alice, The New York Times is also reporting that, as the bill is structured, many blue states will suffer much more reductions in federal assistance to their healthcare—to the healthcare insurance, versus the red states, that will gain more. So it’s almost as if it’s politically written to hurt the blue states.
ALICE OLLSTEIN: That’s right. And while pitting states against each other may succeed in the Senate, that is a much heavier lift in the House, where you have representatives of both parties representing a single state. And you already have some New York Republicans speaking out, saying, “Hey, this is really bad for our constituents. I’m pretty nervous about this.” And so, even if this does pass the Senate, I think it could run into trouble in the House for those reasons. Now, I will say, this is less—it is about red and blue states, but it’s also about whether or not states expanded Medicaid. And we’ve seen states of various political leanings do that for their constituents. And the states that did that and have gotten that federal support for expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income people will see a sharper reduction under this bill.
AMY GOODMAN: So, it looks like they’re being punished for that, for expanding Medicaid, which was both Republicans and Democratic governors. Speaking of which, Republicans and Democratic governors have written a joint letter protesting this bill. You’ve got like John Kasich in Ohio. You’ve got Governor Phil Scott, Governor Charles Baker, Governor Brian Sandoval. Can you talk about the significance of this letter?
ALICE OLLSTEIN: Sure. I think it’s very important we saw governors speaking out—some governors speaking out during the last effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but I think that it’s more important now, because this bill is all about giving power over healthcare back to the states, back to those governors. So the fact that the governors themselves are speaking out and saying, “Hey, this is a bad idea, this is a bad formula,” and even though this gives more power, more decision-making power, back to the states, it gives, in many cases, much less money, tens of billions of dollars less money, to cover the population and provide healthcare. So I think that the governors’ protest here will carry a little more weight. That said, many senators have shown themselves perfectly willing to buck their governor’s wishes. Bill Cassidy, the author of the bill, is one of them. There was a very strong letter from the governor of Louisiana against this bill, and he’s not going to change his mind on that. It’s his bill.
AMY GOODMAN: The question if John McCain will, since Ducey, the governor of Arizona, said he would support this.
ALICE OLLSTEIN: Right. And he’s definitely one to watch. And now John McCain’s gripes about this bill are a lot about process, as well as substance. Now, the process they’re using to force this bill to the floor before the end of the month is a little bit crazy. It’s sort of a crude imitation of regular order. They have all of the pieces there, but not complete. They’re getting a CBO score next week, but it won’t include information on how many people could lose their health insurance or whether premiums would go up or down under this bill, because the CBO just does not have time to make that analysis. They’re going to have a single hearing, potentially mere days before a vote, and that will be in the Finance Committee. And the top Democrat on that committee, Ron Wyden, has said he was not consulted at all about setting up that hearing, and he called it a “sham process.” Now, that is not what usually happens in the Senate with a bill of this magnitude. Usually there are many hearings and markups and getting input from experts, and that’s not happening in this case. Now, if the bill does go to the floor, it will only get 90 seconds of debate before they immediately go to voting on amendments. That’s because this is a—the whole bill is positioned as an amendment to the previous healthcare bill that the Senate already passed.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s not forget that it hasn’t been CBO scored. It hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office. And the question is if they would vote on this, a fifth of the U.S. budget, without a scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. And let’s also not forget that Bernie Sanders, with 15 co-sponsors, has introduced a Medicare-for-all bill. Alice Ollstein, we want to thank you so much for being with us, politics reporter at Talking Points Memo focusing on healthcare. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.