WASHINGTON ― Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has all but killed Obamacare repeal, but there’s still one senator in particular who could make it a done deal and nobody knows where she stands: Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
She’s been wavering on the Graham-Cassidy bill for days, and given her role in killing previous bills to gut the Affordable Care Act, she’s left people clamoring to know if she’s prepared to do it again. In light of McCain’s announcement on Friday that he’ll oppose the bill, a “no” vote by Murkowski would officially kill the repeal effort for now.
Her office had no comment in response to McCain’s decision. “No update from us,” Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Petersen said.
There are plenty of reasons to think she won’t support this bill. Murkowski already took a political risk in July when she voted down the last repeal bill. She was hailed as a hero for it by many in Alaska, too, greeted by hugs and flowers when she went back home. She’s also not up for reelection until 2022, and this photo of her hula-hooping soon after that vote seemed to show a liberated senator living her best life and not looking back.
But there’s a simpler reason, too. It’s just math.
Various experts have already explained why Alaska would lose under the Graham-Cassidy bill.
Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said the bill would yield an 11 percent loss in federal funding in the state, or $1 billion, between 2020 and 2026. Groups like Kaiser and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show similar numbers. Even the Centers for Medicare for Medicaid Services, which has the rosiest numbers, shows a negative effect on Alaska.
Murkowski’s governor also opposes the bill, and on Friday, Alaska’s health department unveiled a new report projecting that Graham-Cassidy would mean a 65 percent cut in federal funding for the state by 2026.
Those are terrible numbers, and they’ve left bill supporters desperate to figure out a way to win over Murkowski. One idea that’s been floated is to create a carve-out for the state. In that scenario, the bill would be amended to let Alaska keep Obamacare while it’s repealed for nearly every other state.
Murkowski hasn’t said if she’d bite on something like that. But a longtime Republican operative familiar with the dynamics at play in Alaska said the senator is better off not taking any deal on this bill ― and she likely knows it.
“So Lisa Murkowski votes for this bill, she gets to keep the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in Alaska. She votes against the bill, she keeps them as well. Why would she go for that?” said this GOP operative. “The only cost is political in terms of a high profile flip-flop that results in irritating all the constituents who aren’t already angry.”
“This is a win-win for Alaska that would end as a political loss on the scoreboard [if Murkowski voted for the bill],” added the Republican insider.
In this light, the best possible scenario for Murkowski is to reject the bill.
Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare are by no means dead for good, and it’s entirely possible that Murkowski would be up for cutting a deal on a future bill. But if the only thing she’ll gain by voting for Graham-Cassidy is the status quo and a fresh herd of angry voters at home, it’s hard to see the point.