5 GOP senators now oppose health bill — enough to sink it

Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., confer before a hearing about how the GOP health care bill could hurt rural Americans, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to push for a vote next week on the legislation, which would eliminate much of Obama's 2010 overhaul and leave government with a diminished role in providing coverage and helping people afford it. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By ALAN FRAM and REGINA GARCIA CANO

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Nevada Republican Dean Heller became the fifth GOP senator to declare his opposition to the party’s banner legislation to scuttle much of Barack Obama’s health care overhaul on Friday, more than enough to sink the measure and deliver a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump unless some of them can be brought aboard.

Echoing the other four, Heller said he opposes the measure “in this form” but does not rule out backing a version that is changed to his liking. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he’s willing to alter the measure to attract support, and next week promises plenty of back-room bargaining as he tries pushing a final package through his chamber.

Nonetheless, Heller’s announcement underscores the scant margin of error Republican leaders must deal with. Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, McConnell can afford to lose just two of the 52 GOP senators and still prevail.

Besides the five who’ve announced outright opposition, several other GOP senators — conservatives and moderates — have declined to commit to the new overhaul. The measure resembles legislation the House approved last month that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would mean 23 million additional uninsured people within a decade and that recent polling shows is viewed favorably by only around 1 in 4 Americans.

Heller, facing a competitive re-election battle next year, said he was opposing the legislation because of the cuts it would make in Medicaid. The federal-state program provides health care to the poor, disabled and many nursing home patients.

The Senate bill would also erase the tax penalties Obama’s 2010 law imposes on people who don’t purchase insurance. It would allow insurers to cover fewer benefits and repeal tax boosts on wealthier people that help finance the statute’s expanded coverage.

The Senate legislation would phase out extra federal money Nevada and 30 other states receive for expanding Medicaid to additional low earners. It would also slap annual spending caps on the overall Medicaid program, which since its inception in 1965 has provided states with unlimited money to cover eligible costs.

“I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said.