Politics Health Care
Rick Santorum Seth Wenig/AP

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum waits for an elevator in Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.

September 20, 2017

Who to thank for latest GOP effort to appeal Obamacare? Rick Santorum (and his hair)

The bill bears the name of U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. But you can thank a former Pennsylvania lawmaker – who hasn't held elected office for 10 years – for setting the wheels in motion.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and two-time presidential candidate, was curiously among those who announced Republicans' latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

This begged the question: Why? Santorum lost to Bob Casey in 2006 after serving two terms, and since his latest failed presidential bid, has been appearing as one of the token conservatives on CNN panels.

It turns out, Santorum, who says he's been largely absent from the Capitol since leaving office, got a haircut, and that's where it all began. NPR has the scoop:

"I was up on the Hill, I happened to just go by the barbershop to see if I could get a haircut, and Lindsey was in the chair," Santorum said. "And Lindsey asked me what I was doing, and I thought to myself, 'Well, let me just bounce it off Lindsey.'"

"Lindsey" was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and "it" was an idea Santorum had just begun talking about with several members of the House Freedom Caucus — repealing large parts of Obamacare and replacing it with a system that's long been a Republican favorite, block grants of funding to states that come with far fewer federal mandates.

...

...(Santorum)'s long been drawn to the health care debate, and Santorum thought he had something to add to Republican repeal efforts. The block grant approach comes from a major welfare reform law that Santorum helped author in 1996. The reform, signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, stands as the rare successful rollback of a previously-issued government entitlement.

Santorum made his pitch to Graham in the barber chair, Graham liked it and suddenly the two presidential also-rans were on a mission. Except, not quite. "It was always a back burner until it was apparent in July that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Obamacare repeal bill] wasn't going to pass," Santorum said.

Now, you can see Santorum front and center in the battle over America's health care system, using his platforms on CNN and within Congress to stump for the legislation he's had a huge hand in crafting.

The bill has a lot in it, and by all accounts, it would seriously alter current health care law; for full explainers, you can go here, here and here.

But here's the crux of it: The Graham-Cassidy bill would cut the amount of money for federal expansion of Medicaid and would instead distribute that money via block grants to states. It would seriously loosen Obamacare requirements for protecting people with pre-existing conditions, waive essential benefits, repeal some current health care taxes and eliminate the Obamacare penalty for individuals and large employers for not buying or providing insurance.

Democrats are coming out swinging against the legislation, including Santorum's replacement, Casey, who called it a "snake in the grass." Per the Ellwood City Ledger:

Citing several reports on the GOP plan, Casey said it would destabilize the individual market that millions have come to rely on for coverage; hurt people with pre-existing conditions and anyone who relies on Medicaid for assistance, such as seniors and children with disabilities and their families; and cripple rural hospitals, which 48 rural counties in Pennsylvania count on for care.

The bill, which, in order to pass with a simple majority as the GOP's 2017 budget reconciliation bill, needs to get a vote in the next two weeks, has already received opposition from Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who essentially argues the bill doesn't go far enough in rolling back Obamacare.

And, of course, much attention has been paid to Sens. Susan Collins, John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, as they torpedoed the previous GOP attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.