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McCain considers a new Obamacare repeal bill, and activists scramble to stop it

Sen. John McCain talks with journalists on Capitol Hill on  Sept. 5. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Update: After this and other stories ran about McCain’s statement, the senator’s office clarified that he did not want a hasty vote on the bill.

“I am committed to working with Governor Doug Ducey to ensure the final outcome of health care reform benefits the people of Arizona. While I support the concept of the Graham-Cassidy proposal, I want to see the final legislation and understand its impact on the state of Arizona before taking a position. As I have said all along, any effort to replace Obamacare must be done through the regular order of committee hearings, open debate and amendments from both sides of the aisle.”

Six weeks after he stopped his party from repealing much of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he could support a compromise that had been shelved months earlier — one that the president has hinted he would sign.

On Wednesday, McCain told the Hill that he backed a proposal from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, and instead dole out money to states for whatever health insurance programs they favored. McCain, Graham’s closest friend in the Senate, said that he would obviously support Graham’s bill. After killing the GOP’s last repeal attempt, saying that the Senate needed to return to regular order, McCain hinted that he could make an exception.

“If it’s not through regular order, then it’s a mistake,” McCain said. “But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t vote for it.”

McCain’s support for the bill did not queue it up for a vote. While Graham and Cassidy began discussing the bill in July, there is no text right now — meaning there’s nothing for the Congressional Budget Office to score. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who joined McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to stop the repeal-and-replace push, expressed concerns about the Graham-Cassidy plan.

“I have reservations about it, but it’s still a work in progress so I haven’t made a decision,” Collins said Wednesday afternoon.

But in a Wednesday interview on Fox News, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the president was “ready with pen in hand to sign health-care reform if, say, Graham-Cassidy moves forward.” That, plus McCain’s comments, kicked off a fresh panic from activists who had twice stopped the repeal push. They had worried that the Senate parliamentarian’s announcement that reconciliation instructions ran out Sept. 30 — ending the GOP’s ability to cram repeal with 51 votes — would begin one last attempt at repeal. (The Senate is scheduled to be in session only 15 more days this month.)

At issue: The effort by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, to pass a narrower measure that would stabilize the insurance marketplaces. That effort took shape this week as he kicked off a series of committee hearings on the topic, and in a short interview, Collins said she would see where that effort went.

Meanwhile, Graham and Cassidy would continue pitching their plan, and would head to the White House later Wednesday to discuss it — with the text arriving sometime later.

“Stay tuned,” Graham said. “It’s coming out and it’s coming out this week.”