Originally Published: September 27, 2017 5:57 a.m.
PHOENIX — Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act formally fizzled Tuesday and Gov. Doug Ducey said the state’s senior senator and his desire for “procedure” is at least partly to blame.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave up on his plan to have a vote before the end of the month when he found himself short of the 50 votes needed out of his 52-member Republican caucus. John McCain is among those refusing to go along with a last-ditch draft of a plan crafted by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
The plan has effectively run out of time as Senate rules allow for this kind of change to be approved by a simple majority only before the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. With all Democrats opposed, Vice President Mike Pence would provide the tie-breaker if McConnell could get to 50.
Once the new fiscal year starts, it takes at least 60 votes to block any sort of filibuster, effectively eliminating any chance Republicans can pass something on their own.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Ducey said he always expected McCain to “make up his own mind” on these kind of issues. But he also took a slap of sorts at the senator who based his objections not so much on what was in the Graham-Cassidy plan -- a plan Ducey praised for returning funds and decision-making to states -- but the fact that McConnell was trying to fast-track the legislation with minimal hearings which provided no real opportunity for negotiations with, or amendments from, Democrats.
“I know to the senator procedure seems to be of paramount in importance, things like ‘regular order,’” Ducey said. That refers to the normal procedure for hearing bills, having them go through committee hearings and providing a chance for debate.
The governor, for his part, said following these procedures “are not as high of a concern for me as a governor.”
More to the point, Ducey said that McCain’s refusal to go along because of those procedural concerns, coupled with objections from several other GOP senators, is bad news for Arizonans.
“We’ve got citizens that need a fix now,” the governor said, a need that Ducey said transcends any concerns about time-consuming procedures.
“So to me the result happening sooner rather than later is more important than that,” he said. “And I guess we can go to work with the Senate having a priority on regular order.”
There was no immediate response to the governor’s comments from McCain.
McConnell told reporters that he still has hopes to repeal and replace the law. But he said efforts to craft a plan that could cobble together the necessary votes just ran out of time.
“We aren’t going to be able to do it this week,” he said.
In fact, it is unlikely to happen at all this year. McConnell said Republicans now need to regroup and focus on the other big priority: revamping the tax code.
Some of the GOP foes of Graham-Cassidy had their own concerns.
For example, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he was holding out for full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. By contrast, what was being proffered kept many of the taxes to pay for it but instead redistributed the money to the states in the form of block grants.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., however, called the bill “deeply flawed” because of cuts in Medicaid funding and problems she saw in protecting people with prior-existing conditions.
But McCain has made it clear for days that he did not like the process. In fact, in an extensive floor speech the senator cited the failure to follow “regular order” as his reason against voting for the “skinny repeal” proposal that came before the Graham-Cassidy plan.
Ducey’s criticism of the senator’s focus on procedure versus what’s actually in the bill mirrors the series of attacks mounted against McCain by President Trump.
The president recently posted a 6-minute string of videos where McCain in various venues, including last year’s reelection bid, said his goal was to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”
“My, oh my, has he changed,” the president tweeted. “Complete turn from years of talk.”
But Graham, in a joint statement with other backers of the last-ditch effort to reach a deal, was unwilling to be critical of McCain and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski who also complained of the “lousy process” in trying to get the Affordable Care Act repealed. And the sponsors said they remain convinced that, when the time came, both would fall into line.
“The most frequent frustration we heard from our colleagues ranging from Sen. McCain to Sen. Murkowski was that time and process were the biggest obstacles to their support,” the bill’s authors said. “There is no doubt about their commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and no doubt about their support of local control.”
And Graham himself, speaking to CNN, refused to join in Trump’s criticism.
“He is one of my dearest friends in the world and John McCain can do whatever he damn he wants to,” Graham said. “He’s earned that right.”
McCain, for his part, said he is looking for a bipartisan solution -- something that would have to happen now that any change needs 60 votes.