Ears perked up all around Capitol Hill on Friday when Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) announced he had been crafting an alternative, bipartisan health care plan as support crumbles for the Obamacare repeal bill pushed by GOP leaders.
But Graham, who coyly teased reporters that he wouldn’t reveal the policies under consideration until later this week, admitted that it was less of collaborative process with Democrats than a plan he hopes will appeal to some Democrats once it sees the light of day.
“I don’t know if this will attract bipartisan support, but it might,” Graham offered to TPM.
Prospects for this secret effort, however, do not look rosy.
The only Democrat who confirmed to TPM that he’s been approached by Graham, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), implied the cross-the-aisle talk did not go far.
“He threw some things out and said, ‘Joe what about this, this and this?’ And I said, ‘You know, we’re not going vote to repeal,’” Manchin told reporters. “But I said, ‘You know, if you’re wanting to repair and fix it with the private sector and no harm to Medicaid, and get rid of all the tax cuts you’re giving to the rich, let’s sit down and talk.’ And that’s where we left it.”
Separately, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) says she has had six Democrats approach her over the last few months “indicating that they have a willingness to start looking at a compromise bill.” But after “off-and-on” talks, no plan is currently in the works.
Though the GOP by all accounts does not yet have the 50 votes they need to pass their health care bill, almost every other Republican senator who spoke to TPM treated the idea of working with Democrats on a health care bill as a joke, an impossibility, a dream for the distant future, or a threat to bully dissenting Republicans in line.
The news of Graham’s effort came the same day that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took the unusual step of announcing he would keep the Senate in session during part of their cherished August recess. Stymied on their core promise of the last eight years—repealing the Affordable Care Act—despite controlling every level of power in Washington, Republicans’ wide array of arguments on why they should or should not work with Democrats is yet another sign of desperation and dysfunction.
When asked if he’d be willing to work with Democrats if the GOP health care bill goes down in flames, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters: “I’d be delighted to have the Democrats offer up ideas, but what I hear primarily from the Democrats is that they want a single payer system.”
Though much of the Democratic voter bases wishes this were true, senior Democratic leaders from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to the DNC have rejected the idea of a single payer health care system. Even California, a state under total Democratic Party control, has been unable to implement such a model.
Other Republicans, like Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), said he would like to work with Democrats “someday,” but for the present health care fight: “We’re going to have to do the hard lift ourselves.”
Others who just a few months ago were calling for a bipartisan process and holding side meetings with Democrats to try to craft a deal now say working with Democrats is not possible.
“Nobody wanted to talk,”complained Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “They were so…” Catching himself, he muttered, “I was about to use my French.”
“I was so frustrated,” Cassidy continued. “Because, it was all, ‘That’s great, man, really great. Hope we can get together.’ But then I saw that Politico article about Schumer saying [to Democrats]: ‘Stay in line and don’t cooperate.’ I just threw up my hands. I think that explains why everybody was so full of ‘attaboy’ but nobody ever wanted to commit.”
Democrats, for their part, are pointing fingers right back at Republicans, saying they would be perfectly willing to negotiate if Republicans would make two key concessions: drop the proposed cuts to Medicaid and scrap the tax breaks for the wealthy.
“Once you get rid of those two things, we can have a conversation,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told TPM.
Durbin added any nascent bipartisan talks that have sprung up have been stuck in limbo, waiting to see whether Republicans can muscle through a bill on GOP votes alone.
“The Senate Republicans I’ve spoken to are all waiting for McConnell to say, ‘This is over. I can’t pass it.'”
Such an admission may come as soon as next week, when Republicans plan to hold a procedural vote on their health care bill whether or not they have secured enough votes for its passage.
“There comes a time where you have to fish or cut bait,” Kennedy told reporters. “We’ll either pass it or we won’t pass it, and if we can’t do it, let’s move on to something else.”