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Klobuchar says troubled health care bill shows need for bipartisan work

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minneota reacts during a news conference in Riga, Latvia Dec. 28, 2016. Ints Kalnins / Reuters1 / 5
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (right) and Sen. Martin Heinrich, speaks with the media on July 18, 2017, about the congressional health care debate. Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters2 / 5
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota hosts a summit on normalizing relations with Cuba on Feb. 23, 2015, at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 5
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.4 / 5
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota speaks at a Dec. 28, 2016, news conference in Riga, Latvia, as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina looks on, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Latvia President Raimonds Vejonis talk on the right. Ints Kalnins / Reuters5 / 5

WASHINGTON -- Republican-written federal health care legislation that appeared lacking enough votes to pass is proof a bipartisan effort is needed to fix the issue, U.S.Sen. Amy Klobuchar told a national audience.

"Put politics aside and put the people first," the Minnesota Democrat said during a 90-minute CNN health care legislation debate with three Senate colleagues Monday night, Sept. 25.

Klobuchar used her national pulpit to urge bipartisan work to fix the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. She frequently promoted existing Democrat-Republican efforts during the 90-minute debate.

"I am tired hearing about there being one choice..." she said about the current bill.

She said a bipartisan approach can come up with something better than the Republican legislation that "makes things worse" by forcing people off insurance and raising premiums.

The four senators, who got along well on the Washington CNN stage, began the debate three hours after news emerged that the bill lacks votes to pass.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote against the bill, effectively killing the legislation unless she or one of two other Republicans who say they oppose the measure change their mind. Joining Collins in saying they will vote against the bill are John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Even without enough support, senators still could vote this week.

"We are going to press on," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the bill's sponsors. "It is OK to vote. It is OK to fall short for something you believe in."

Republicans have a narrow 52-48 advantage in the Senate, meaning a bill fails if three of them vote against a bill and Democrats stand together. There apparently are no Democratic votes for the latest Obamacare repeal bill.

Klobuchar and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, appeared live on CNN against the legislation's authors, Republican U.S. Sens. Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

With two Republicans and one independent on stage with her, Klobuchar looked around and said "the answer is right in front of us," with the four agreeing on several issues.

Invoking the name of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Klobuchar said that his complaint is that a major bill like changing federal health policies should include input from both major parties and go through the traditional committee process. The only committee to hear the bill met Monday, but only after police removed demonstrators, many in wheelchairs..

"We can do something quickly to fix the Affordable Care Act," Klobuchar said.

Graham said he does not hear solutions from Democrats who crafted Obamacare.

"Obamacare is failing..." Graham said. "It gets worse over time, not better."

He and Cassidy would provide money to states, where Graham said officials could be more responsive to Americans' needs than unseen federal bureaucrats.

Cassidy said patients would be in charge.

"When the patient has the power, the system lines up to serve her..." said Cassidy, a medical doctor. "This debate is about who has the power ... the patient or the bureaucrat."

The bill would erase the Obamacare provision that bans insurers from rejecting people with existing medical conditions.

Insurance premiums could rise, as could deductibles, under the proposal. Older Americans with more health problems could face higher premiums than younger ones.

Not long before the debate, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the bill would push "millions" of people off government programs. However, at the same time, the office said, the Cassidy-Graham bill would reduce the federal deficit by $133 billion.

Sanders continued the argument he made on the presidential campaign trail last year, that federally paid insurance is the best answer. He told viewers that every major medical organization opposes Graham-Cassidy.

Despite the GOP's strong desire to kill Obamacare, it has failed. First, then-President Barack Obama vetoed bills the Republican-controlled Congress passed, and this year Republicans have not been able to come together on the issue.

The push was on to pass the bill this week because starting on Sunday Senate rules revert back to the need to get 60 senators to agree to take up a bill. For the next few days, if Republicans stand together they can set the agenda.

Minutes after Klobuchar walked off the CNN stage, she sent a fundraising letter to supporters.

"It's about the Minnesota retiree with diabetes saving her used insulin injectors because the drug has gotten so expensive," she wrote. "It's about the farmer with a heart condition and the teacher with breast cancer. That's why we can't afford to let them ram though a bill that's going to make things worse by cutting millions off of healthcare, jacking up premiums, and doing nothing about skyrocketing drug costs."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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