Republican senators are struggling to articulate why they are rushing to pass their last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare over the next 10 days before running into their September 30 deadline.
In interviews with Vox on Tuesday, nine Republican senators primarily argued that their "Hail Mary" bill — spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC) and Bill Cassidy (LA) — would return federal power to the states, giving them greater flexibility to improve their health systems locally. "The heart of the legislation takes the policymaking role of Washington and sends it to the states," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said.
Far less clear is exactly how Graham-Cassidy would pull off this feat without resulting in millions of Americans losing their insurance — and the number of millions is still unknown, since any vote would likely have to come before the Congressional Budget Office completes its analysis of the bill. The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.
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"They can do it with less money," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who was unable to explain how or why.
Other Republican senators, meanwhile, fell back on political explanations for a bill that experts warn could result in millions losing their insurance. "If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). "And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel."
And then some members of the upper chamber acknowledged that the spending changes might have a big impact, but argued their home states would not be negatively impacted. "Four of our states are getting a disproportionate amount of money from health care now," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said. The bill, he added, "wouldn't cut Alabama." (Numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest Alabama would receive more than $1 billion in additional funding under the bill, but most states would see big cuts.)
The stakes of the Republican rush to repeal and replace Obamacare could hardly be higher. The GOP has less than two weeks to pass a repeal-and-replace plan before their budget reconciliation instructions expire, and the insurance of tens of millions of Americans hangs in the balance.
Vox conducted the interviews with nine Republican senators throughout the Capitol and Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday.
Transcripts of those conversations follow.