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GOP health care repeal crusade runs into a brick wall

There's no denying the fact that Republican opponents of the existing health care system had a very bad day yesterday.
Image: Bill Cassidy,Lindsey Graham
FILE - In this July 13, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., right, talk while walking to a meeting on Capitol...

Keeping up on Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act can be exhausting. Every threat of GOP success causes a degree of panic among health care advocates, which is followed by relief when those repeal bills fizzle, which is followed by a new round of anxiety when Republicans regroup and try again. And again. And again.

That said, there's no denying the fact that opponents of the existing health care system had a very bad day yesterday.

Monday morning, S&P Global Ratings unveiled its new analysis of the Cassidy-Graham bill, which found that the regressive proposal would cost nearly 600,000 jobs and undermine the economy. Soon after, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing -- in an unnecessarily small room -- in which activists in wheelchairs were forcibly removed by the police, and where Republican proponents of the legislation struggled mightily to defend the measure on the merits.

As the afternoon progressed, the Congressional Budget Office released a partial analysis of the Graham-Cassidy plan, which concluded that millions of Americans would lose their health coverage if the proposal were imposed on the nation.

Word from the CBO was quickly followed by an announcement from a closely watched Republican senator.

The GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare received what appeared to be a fatal blow Monday evening when Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced her decision not to support the bill, becoming the crucial third Republican to oppose it.Collins joins Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky as GOP "no" votes. Unless one of them switches their position, Republicans can't muster the 50 voted needed to pass it.

Referring to the repeal bill he appears to support, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) told the Washington Post late yesterday, "Everybody knows that's going to fail."

And yet, I'd caution against exhaling just yet.

First, the deadline isn't until Saturday at midnight, and while the bill certainly appears dead now, we're dealing with unpredictable circumstances. The will among Republicans to undermine the system hasn't faded, and as the desperation intensifies, the desire to pass something grows with it.

Second, we don't yet know whether there will be a vote. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested the bill is likely to reach the floor, even if its defeat is a foregone conclusion. Democrats I've talked to would be delighted if GOP leaders go this route: the more Senate Republicans tie themselves to a woefully unpopular bill, the better it is for their opponents. On the other hand, if GOP senators, recognizing that the bill is doomed, reject it en masse, Dems will be able to boast about the bipartisan opposition the repeal bill faced.

And yet, Republicans may give Democrats what they want. "There are a lot of people who want to vote yes and be recorded as voting yes," Cornyn said yesterday. "I think there is some advantage to showing you're trying and doing the best you can."

This is rather bizarre. Republicans are already on record voting for repeal -- see floor developments from the summer -- and no sensible person can look at Graham-Cassidy and believe this is "the best" the GOP can do.

That said, the Senate Republican conference is scheduled to meet today for its regularly scheduled gathering, at which point they'll decide how and whether to jump off this cliff.

Postscript: As of this minute, we don't yet know how Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) intends to vote, but it's widely expected she'll oppose the bill. Health care advocates need three "no" votes, but they're likely to end up with four or more.