Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has laid out his precondition for negotiation on the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill in a Sunday interview with the Washington Post. The Senator has declared he will consider backing the bill if the block grants given to the states by it were substantially lowered.
“Would I talk to them if they said they wanted to make the block grants half as much? I might,” Paul said. “Nobody has really offered me that, to say, ‘Well, we could spend less’. But we’re going to have a $700 billion deficit, and this is an entitlement program.”
Paul acknowledged that he remains in negotiation with the White House and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) over the bill, saying he has had “pleasant conversations” with them.
“They know if they want me, they’re going to have to make the bill more of a repeal bill and less of a ‘we’re going to divvy up the pie to Republicans’ bill,” Paul continued.
He rejected the possibility of a deal where he would back the bill in exchange for greater congressional oversight of military action, one of his pet issues in the Senate, noting, “I’m not going to trade my vote for something ancillary or be bribed.”
During an appearance on NBC‘s ‘Meet the Press’ earlier that day, Paul expressed a similar sentiment, but took a somewhat harder line. Paul stated he could get to a yes on the bill if the bill “block [granted] at pre-Obama levels”, but otherwise said that he was “just not for this block granting concept”.
However, even with Paul’s support, the chances of the bill passing seem to be bleak. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced the same day that “right now, they don’t have my vote”, and suggested his close ally Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) had the same stance. However, like Paul, he did not rule out supporting it, stating, “I want to be a ‘yes,’ I want to get there because I think Obamacare is a disaster.” He suggested that his support would largely be contingent on the inclusion of his and Lee’s consumer choice amendments, which were left out of the latest draft of the bill, arguing, “the price to getting there, I believe, is focusing on consumer freedom.”
As Paul noted, there also remains considerable opposition to the legislation from the moderate wing of the party. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has already made clear that he is firmly opposed to the bill. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is yet to announce her position, but is widely expected to oppose it and has stated it is “very difficult for [her] to envision a scenario” where she votes in favor of it. She is awaiting the release of the CBO analysis of the bill tomorrow morning in order to make her final decision. However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who opposed past repeal efforts, is apparently open to persuasion, according to CNN‘s Jake Tapper.
Given the narrow Republican majority in the Senate, just three Republican votes against the bill will result in its failure. As a consequence, it is now essential for Republican leadership to lock down both Cruz and Lee, and win over two out of three of Paul, Collins, and Murkowski. Doing so will undoubtedly require significant amendments to the bill, and therefore it seems unlikely that the planned Wednesday vote on the major reform legislation will take place.