“Lisa Murkowski walked briskly down a cavernous hallway on the first floor of the Capitol, awash in a small sea of reporters. Suddenly she paused, seemingly overcome by the pressure of the moment.”
So starts the Washington Post story on the latest effort to reform the Affordable Care Act and the woman in the middle of the storm.
If the writing seems a bit breathless, it’s because Sen. Murkowski was trying to get reporters to back off a bit. She needed air.
Murkowski is under pressure as the Senate tries to move a new Obamacare reform bill that would send block grants to states. She’s going to have to take a stand again, but the last time she did, her Republican base was deeply disappointed. The party telephones rang off the hook with angry constituents, while Democrats heaped praise on the Republican senator from Alaska.
The Graham-Cassidy amendment, which would create block health care grants to the states, has a short window to pass — Sept. 30 — and the pressure is on once again.
“‘You guys — hold,’ the Republican senator from Alaska said curtly,” the Post reports today. ‘Give me breathing room, please. It gets a little intense. I know you guys don’t feel it, but it’s like, whoa.'”
“Another effort to replace the Affordable Care Act is underway, and in Washington this year, that means one thing: Murkowski is at the center of it all — under the glare of the national spotlight and squarely on the minds of White House officials and Senate Republican leaders who are strenuously seeking her support.”
But this time around, Alaska’s senior senator has assumed a slightly different posture than the fighting stance she took on during July when she bolted from the Senate majority and voted with Democrats.
Now, at least she says she wants to study the Graham-Cassidy bill more closely.
Murkowski told reporters she’s not yet ready to support it, but she and Sen. Dan Sullivan met with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy today. She said: “I have asked for nothing except the data that we’re going to need to better understand the impact to a high-cost, low-density state like Alaska.”
She wants data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services, “working with our state’s Medicaid directors.”
The Post describes Murkowski as brusque, unpredictable, mysterious and complicated. A lot like Alaska, the reporter surmises.
“The problem last time was process and substance,” Murkowski said to the Post reporter, while explaining why she could vote for the Graham-Cassidy amendment. “Nobody knew what we were really . . . voting on.”
Murkowski’s words indicate she’s not all-in on keeping the existing Obamacare after all, and may vote yes on this version of reform:
“If it can be shown that Alaska is not going to be disadvantaged, you gain additional flexibility,” Murkowski said. “Then I can go back to Alaskans, and I can say, ‘Okay, let’s walk through this together.’”
Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party said, “It’s something that has to be done. They promised to do it. It needs to happen and I’m glad they are working on it. I’m not going to weigh in on any detail or itieration of a bill. But I am delighted and encouraged they continue to work on it.”
Some observers in Alaska are mystified with Sen. Murkowski’s recent opposition to Obamacare repeal. They point out that if she truly wants a bipartisan bill, then keeping Obamacare works against that goal. Far better, they say, to repeal Obamacare, giving Republicans the negotiating leverage they need to hammer out an acceptable bipartisan compromise.