Sen. Cory Gardner still uncommitted on Graham-Cassidy health care bill as it nears death

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., remained noncommittal Monday as to whether or not he supports the latest Senate Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act as it was dealt another blow that could prove fatal.

The Senate Finance Committee held an hours-long committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill Monday morning, as Democrats continued to bash the bill and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana defended it.

But after the hearing and the release of a partial score on one version of Graham-Cassidy by the Congressional Budget Office, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she couldn’t support the bill, dealing it what could be its final death blow.

Sens. Rand Paul and John McCain on Monday reiterated their stances that they couldn’t support the bill either. Since Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, they couldn’t have three defections on the latest repeal effort.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had also previously voiced his opposition to the latest effort, though his aides said Monday he was trying to get to supporting the measure. And Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski has said she is still on the fence on the bill after she voted against previous Senate Republican versions.

Top Senate Republicans said they would make the decision by Tuesday afternoon whether or not they would try to bring Graham-Cassidy to the floor for a vote. The measure has been widely panned by medical organizations, insurers, Democrats and some Republicans.

Gardner was one of the senators who on Monday still hadn’t publicly taken a stance on the measure.

“I’m glad that there is a hearing today on Graham-Cassidy, this is something that should have been done months ago,” Gardner said in a statement to Denver7 ahead of the committee hearing. “Changes are still being made to the legislation, and I’m looking at how they impact our state and what the best path forward will be for Colorado.”

Gardner has with Graham-Cassidy taken the same route he’s generally taken on all the health care bills the Senate has taken up over the past couple months: He hasn’t taken a stance until a vote is held, and hasn’t tipped his hand when votes have been tabled at the last minute.

He voted to pass a repeal measure in July that the CBO said would have left 32 million fewer people with insurance than under current law.

And in a statement to Denver7 Monday, Gardner continued to slam the Affordable Care Act, which he says is causing the 27 percent rate hikes on the individual market in Colorado next year, despite the state’s insurance commissioner blaming the constant battle to pass a repeal-only measure and questions over CSR payments for the hikes.

“Let’s remember why we are where we are today – the Affordable Care Act has been anything but affordable for Coloradans,” Gardner told Denver7. "Premiums are projected to go up nearly 27 percent next year on the individual market and counties across the state have dwindling insurance options to choose from.”

Some of Gardner’s opponents in Colorado will be out Tuesday at his offices to try and force the Republican senator to oppose Graham-Cassidy, however. Protect Our Care Colorado is organizing protests at each of Gardner’s local offices across the state.

Bennet’s fellow senator from Colorado, Democrat Michael Bennet, was incensed Monday during the finance committee hearing that the bill was nearing a possible floor vote. As he did in an interview with Denver7 last Friday, he called for a return to the bipartisan discussions that had been ongoing in the HELP Committee until they were halted last week as Republicans pushed Graham-Cassidy.

“We choose not to take any of the recommendations that have been made in a bipartisan way in hearings in the HELP Committee, and on top of that, we’ve looked for an excuse to cut poor people off Medicaid,” Bennet said. 

“I cannot believe the hypocrisy of people supporting this bill and saying that they are fighting against insurance companies, when what they’re doing is stripping hard-earned consumer protections from the American people,” he continued. “It is a disgrace, and what we should be doing is going upstairs to the HELP Committee and continue the bipartisan work.”

The New York Times reported last Friday that Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee and is in charge of gathering up donations for current and prospective Republican senators, that Gardner was being pressured by donors over the repeal of the ACA, which Gardner and other Republicans have campaigned on doing for years.

The Times quoted Gardner as saying “donors are furious” and that Republicans “haven’t kept our promise.”

He followed it up by denying that donors were pressuring his and other Republicans’ decisions on an ACA repeal when he was interviewed on CBS News’s Face the Nation: “It has nothing to do with donors. It has everything to do with the people of this country who are suffering each and every day under a health care bill that is failing to meet their needs,” he told John Dickerson.

Requests for further comment on the Times’ story and on Monday’s developments with Graham-Cassidy made to Gardner’s communications team have so far not been returned.

Graham-Cassidy would end the Medicaid expansion and subsidies under the ACA and roll some of the money into block grants that would be sent to states to use.

But even top Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah was questioning whether the bill would make it to the floor after Collins came out in opposition. A reporter asked if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would bring it to the floor, Hatch responded: “I doubt it.”

The top Senate Republicans are expected to meet with the rest of the caucus Tuesday before any final decisions are made.

Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is the No. 3 in the Senate leadership, said the prospects for Graham-Cassidy were “bleak.”

Parliamentary rules in the Senate mean Republicans have only until Sept. 30 to pass the bill through “reconciliation,” which requires only a simple majority vote. Afterward, a repeal bill would need 60 votes to pass.

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