Pump The Brakes
Senator Says He’s Been Assured the Alaska Purchase Won’t Be in the Final Health-Care Bill
An attempt to buy off a key vote would have been a remarkable reversal for Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the bill’s authors.
The office of a top conservative senator said Friday that the Republican Party’s latest health-care bill would not include a carve-out for Alaska.
“Senator [Mike] Lee has been assured those reports are false,” said his spokesman, Conn Carroll.
The “reports” to which Carroll was referring emerged Thursday, detailing a provision being drafted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to include in his health-care overhaul with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). Under that provision, small states with low population density would be able to opt out of the larger bill’s Medicaid financing system and, reportedly, keep the federal tax credits available under Obamacare.
Though Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota would be affected, it was the fourth state—Alaska—that was the most conspicuous. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has not yet said how she would vote on Graham-Cassidy. And this provision appeared to be a fairly obvious attempt to persuade her.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office did not immediately respond to comment on whether that provision remained in the bill. Nor did Graham’s office.
But for both men, the fact that they’d flirt with including a state-specific carve-out as a means of winning a critical vote on a massive health-care bill is a betrayal of past positions. Both senators were some of the fiercest critics of similar attempts to do so during the crafting of Obamacare.
McConnell literally coined the phrase “Cornhusker Kickback” to describe the Nebraska-specific Medicaid financing deal that was included (then excluded) from the Affordable Care Act to win Sen. Ben Nelson’s vote. And Graham led the charge to challenge its legality.
In 2010, The Washington Post reported that Graham called on his state’s then-attorney general, Henry McMaster, to examine the constitutionality of the Nebraska kickback. At the time, McMaster worked with other attorneys general and threatened to sue if the extra assistance for Nebraska remained in the final version of the ACA bill.
“There are a lot of people—Republicans and Democrats—[who] are upset by this,” Graham told CNN of the proposed sweetener for Nelson’s vote. “Is it constitutional?”
Graham called the Nebraska provision, and a similar offers, “backroom deals that amount to bribes.”
More recently, he said he would not vote for a health-care bill that involved trying to win votes from individual senators by including sweetheart provisions.
A top Senate Republican aide said that, ultimately, it would be unlikely to have the Alaska carve-out remain in the final bill. That aide categorized Thursday’s reports as merely an “offer” and not “an accepted deal.” Should it end up in the final deal, it’s unclear how it might affect Graham-Cassidy’s ultimate passage. Murkowski has, in the past, dismissed efforts to win her votes through Alaska-specific exemptions. As for Sen. Lee, Carroll declined to say if he’d vote for a bill with that carve-out included.
“We don’t waste our time on hypotheticals,” he emailed.