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Sep 19, 1:48 PM EDT

Senate leader praises revived GOP health law repeal drive


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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday praised the revived Republican effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, giving a public boost to a proposal that's given new life to a drive that seemed all but dead weeks ago.

McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill would let states "implement better health care ideas by taking more decision-making power out of Washington" and letting local officials decide what "works better in their own particular states."

Backed by the White House and Senate leaders, the bill's chief sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana's Bill Cassidy, are still hunting for the 50 GOP votes they'd need to prevail over solid Democratic opposition. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote in a roll call that must happen by the end of September, before special procedures shielding the bill from a Democratic filibuster expire.

The 140-page legislation would replace much of Obama's law with block grants to states, giving them wide leeway on spending the money, and would cut and reshape Medicaid. It would let states set their own coverage health requirements, allow insurers to boost premiums on people with serious medical conditions and end Obama's mandates that most Americans buy insurance and that companies offer coverage to workers.

McConnell called the proposal "an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support." He warned that the chance to dismantle Obama's law, a top priority for President Donald Trump and the GOP, "may well pass us by if we don't act soon."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the measure would be a step backward that would cause millions to lose coverage and drive up costs for many. With the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office saying it won't be able to measure the bill's effect on coverage and premiums by month's end, Schumer warned Republicans against voting without knowing the measure's impact.

"The senators on the other side of the aisle should be walking around here with a blindfold over their eyes, because they don't know what they're voting on," Schumer said as Democrats and their allies mustered an all-out effort to try killing the measure. "Maybe they don't care."

A pair of potent interest groups, The American Medical Association and AARP, joined the opposition to the GOP bill in letters to lawmakers.

The doctors' group wrote that the measure "would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage, destabilize health insurance markets, and decrease access to affordable coverage and care." AARP, which represents elderly people, said the proposal would "undermine the consumer protections which millions of Americans have benefited from and rely on today."

In addition, 10 governors from both parties asked congressional leaders in a letter to reject the GOP bill and instead seek bipartisan legislation making health care more affordable. They included independent Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is among a small group of GOP senators wavering over the latest Republican bill.

With Democrats unanimously opposed, Republicans commanding the Senate 52-48 would lose if just three GOP senators vote no. That proved a bridge too far in July, when three attempts to pass similar measures fell short and delivered an embarrassing defeat to Trump and McConnell.

On Tuesday, Pence left his United Nations meetings in New York to attend the Senate Republican policy lunch in Washington.

For Senate Republican leaders, a victory would allow them to claim redemption on their "repeal and replace" effort. The House approved its version of the bill in May.

Special procedures protecting the GOP bill from filibusters - which take 60 votes to block - expire Sept. 30, and after that Democratic opposition would guarantee its defeat. Some wavering Republican senators could want the nonpartisan budget office's analysis before feeling comfortable about the measure's impact back home.

The budget agency's evaluations of past GOP repeal plans concluded they would have caused millions of Americans to lose insurance coverage.

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the House would vote on the bill if it passes the Senate. Speaking in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Ryan called it "our best, last chance to get repeal and replace done."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote House Democrats to urge them to join a two-hour "tweet storm" Tuesday and schedule public events aimed at intensifying opposition to a measure she called "this moral monstrosity."

The bill would reduce spending gaps between states that expanded Medicaid under Obama's law and the mostly GOP states that did not. Details on the measure's exact state-by-state impact were murky.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he'll oppose the measure because it doesn't do enough to erase Obama's law. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was concerned the bill would make "fundamental changes" in Medicaid.

Other Republicans who've not yet lined up behind the bill include Murkowski, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Ohio's Rob Portman.

Collins, Murkowski and McCain provided the decisive votes against the last measure Republicans tried to push through the Senate in July.

"It's better but it's not what the Senate is supposed to be doing," McCain told reporters about the new package.

Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey said he backed the new bill, putting pressure on McCain.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Andrew Taylor and Richard Lardner in Washington and Scott Bauer in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

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