NEW ORLEANS -- Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., is done being coy about how he will vote on the Republican health care bill.
He told WWL-TV on Monday that he’d vote for the Senate leadership’s version as it currently stands and would also support a possible repeal of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act even if there was no bill to replace it.
“First chance I get to repeal Obamacare, I’m gonna do it,” Kennedy said.
But Kennedy says the Senate bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is almost surely going to change and he is not in favor of just any replacement bill. He specifically said, for the first time, that he is not in favor of alternatives offered by his Louisiana colleague in the Senate and fellow Republican Bill Cassidy.
Cassidy has offered two variations, which could be offered as amendments to the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
A physician who treated Medicaid patients in the Louisiana charity hospital system for 25 years, Cassidy’s proposals include one co-sponsored by Maine’s Susan Collins, one of two GOP holdouts blocking a floor debate on the main Senate bill.
Last week, Cassidy introduced another alternative plan with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, but Kennedy says both proposals keep too much of Obamacare in-tact.
“I will not support them at this moment,” Kennedy said of Cassidy’s bills. “Senator Cassidy is my friend. I have a great deal of respect for him. But both of his bills, in my opinion, continue too much of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, which has failed the American people.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to call for a vote to begin debate Tuesday, but so far Collins is against that and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he’ll only approve a vote on repealing Obamacare without a replacement.
President Donald Trump spoke Monday to warn Collins, Paul and as many as seven other GOP senators who were still undecided on allowing debate that this was “their chance to keep their promise.”
The absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was recovering from brain tumor surgery, makes the path to 50 votes to open debate even tougher.
But it’s not even clear what bill will be up for debate. A possibility would be to offer the Senate leadership’s latest version and then offer amendments on the floor, including ones based on Cassidy’s proposals.
Kennedy complained that Cassidy’s bills would not only let states keep the health insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare, but also would keep the Affordable Care Act’s taxes on wealthier Americans. But the main Senate bill, which Kennedy said he’d vote for, also keeps Obamacare’s 3.8-percent investment income tax and 0.9-percent Medicare payroll tax on wealthier individuals and families.
“The current version of the BCRA, that Senator Kennedy references, keeps Obamacare taxes in place – so Senator Kennedy favors that,” Cassidy spokesman John Cummins said.
“On the other hand, Graham-Cassidy and Cassidy-Collins represent the best opportunities to fulfill President Trump’s campaign promises to the American people while respecting states’ rights.”
Kennedy’s position worries Ashley Volion, a disabled rights advocate who has cerebral palsy and depends on Medicaid waivers to get the 24/7 care necessary to work and live on her own.
“He is so dead-set on his position, and again, not taking a person’s humanity into account,” Volion said.
Kennedy said the fear over Medicaid is overblown because cuts won’t kick in until 2026, giving states plenty of time to get their own spending under control. Cassidy, too, wants states to take control of Medicaid spending, calling the current trends “unsustainable.”
But Volion said transferring responsibility to the states doesn’t change the underlying federal cuts in both the main Senate bill and Cassidy’s alternatives.
“That’s a cop-out putting it on another person, when the fact is at the federal level it’s going to be cut,” she said.
Kennedy said Louisiana’s spending on Medicaid has grown at a rate of 7 percent per year since 2008 and the spending increases have been excessive.
But figures tracked by the Kaiser Family Foundation show that Louisiana is already curtailing its Medicaid spending. After it shot up 9 percent a year from 2007 to 2010, the annual growth rate slowed to only 1.4 percent between 2010 and 2014, well below the national average of 5.2 percent.
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