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White House backs last-ditch plan to overhaul health care

Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday,

Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, is co-sponsor of the new bill with Sen. Bill Cassidy, third from left. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, has not scheduled a vote yet. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — The White House has thrown its support behind a Senate Republican last-ditch effort to dismantle Obamacare with legislation to turn federal health care funding into state block grants that could be up for a vote next week.

Vice President Mike Pence said President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) back the bill sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who are trying to secure the 50 Republican votes they need to pass it.

“I want to make sure that members of the Senate know the president and our entire administration supports Graham-Cassidy,” Pence said as he and Graham arrived in Washington from New York on Air Force Two.

The legislation would turn over billions of federal Affordable Care Act dollars now controlled by Washington to states, giving them the flexibility to allot and manage the money. It also cuts funding for and reshapes Medicaid.

Many lawmakers believed an Obamacare repeal was dead after the Senate failed to pass legislation in July. Its re-emergence set off alarms for Democrats, who put out a “red-alert” call to its members and backers to mobilize against it.

Republicans face a tough deadline: They must act by the end of next week to take advantage of a special rule that allows them to overcome solid Democratic opposition with 51 votes. After the rule expires Sept. 30, Republicans must find 60 votes to end a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wary after his recent failures to pass an Obamacare repeal, offered support for Graham-Cassidy. “It is better than the status quo by far,” McConnell said after a lunch where Pence and Republican senators talked about the bill.

But he hasn’t scheduled a vote. “We are in the process of discussing all of this,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill would cause millions to lose health insurance, “radically restructure” Medicaid, strip consumer protections and throw the individual insurance market into chaos. He warned the bill could “snuff out” bipartisanship.

Opposition to the bill includes the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association. Five Republican and five Democratic governors wrote a letter opposing the legislation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo blasted the bill, saying it would result in the loss of millions of health care jobs and $19 billion in federal funds — an estimate of what New York could lose in the bill’s shift of funds over six years from states that expanded Medicaid to those that did not.

The bill’s fate could rest with four Republicans: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted against the repeal bill in July, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who opposes the bill because it doesn’t repeal Obamacare.

With Yancey Roy

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