Bill Cassidy: The public face of a doomed health-care bill

 In U.S.
Bill Cassidy of Louisiana walked down a hallway flanked by three members of the Capitol Police, each ready to ward off protesters who might confront him about his health-care bill.

It was an unusual day for the little-known Republican senator, spent shuttling from interview to interview, then to the Senate Finance Committee, where he would pitch his approach to dismantling Obamacare to his colleagues, and finally to a CNN stage where he subjected himself to a nationally televised, one-hour debate despite his bill’s collapse hours earlier.

Was he still hoping to bring the measure back from almost certain defeat?

Hard to say.

The Cassidy-Graham proposal is unpopular with voters. It is opposed by the medical establishment to which Cassidy, a physician-turned-politician, once belonged. Experts estimated that it would kick tens of millions off their health-care plans. Even some members of Cassidy’s own party are skeptical.

At what point does a quixotic effort become masochistic? And what would make Cassidy, or anyone for that matter, want to remain its public face?

One clue emerged in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday: Cassidy is determined. Relentlessly, strangely determined.

“Keep plugging, keep plugging and never quit,” he said. “Two years ago, people thought I was Don Quixote. A month ago, people thought things were dead. Two weeks ago, people smiled. And now folks say, ‘Wow, they may still pull it off.’ If you keep your head down and keep plugging, good things happen, and that’s my goal.”

In the committee, Cassidy had hoped to revive a bill that had hovered near collapse for four days. He had revised the text to appeal to holdout senators. He would try to win approval from the heavyweights on the panel, where he is the most junior member. He didn’t have much to work with.

“I was sent here to work,” he said at one point. “If this [the bill] is the only means by which I can do so, I shall.”

At another moment: “For three years, I went around to Democratic colleagues and met with you and asked, ‘Can we please work together?’ For three years, I was basically told, ‘Nice try.’ ”

As the hearing began, the bill was holding onto a slim chance of success. Cassidy would find out before the committee adjourned, five hours later, that this chance was all but gone.

The first-term senator cuts an unusual figure in the upper chamber. He stands out at over 6 feet tall, with strong features and a shock of gray hair. Described as friendly but without close friends, he ranges around the Capitol with his headphones in, avoiding small talk. Before the health-care debate, he was not known for a signature issue — nor for a calling card among his colleagues.

That all changed in May after Cassidy’s encounter with Jimmy Kimmel.

Cassidy had not even been part of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) official working group on health care early this year, despite his stated interest in the issue and his medical degree. He partnered with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on an Affordable Care Act replacement bill, but the legislation had aroused little interest.

He finally managed to join the debate after coming up with a standard for judging Republican legislation to replace the ACA. He would call it the “Jimmy Kimmel test” — an outgrowth of the late-night comic’s plea to Congress to protect the ACA, which began after his baby son was born with a heart defect. Cassidy declared, after Kimmel’s advocacy made headlines, that he would not support a bill that failed to guarantee that patients like the Kimmel baby would receive health coverage regardless of income.

Cassidy initially won praise from liberal advocates. But by mid-September, he had opted to become a lead sponsor of a new proposal offering dramatic cuts to Medicaid and leaving many coverage decisions to states.

Cassidy claimed that his position had not changed since May.

“My patients had terrible diseases and multiple chronic conditions, and my life’s work was how to care for these fellow Americans,” he said in a video posted on Twitter over the weekend, referring to his work with Louisiana’s uninsured patients. “[Cassidy-Graham] accomplishes this by other means.”

Recent Posts
Get Breaking News Delivered to Your Inbox
Join over 2.3 million subscribers. Get daily breaking news directly to your inbox as they happen.
Your Information will never be shared with any third party.
Get Latest News in Facebook
Never miss another breaking news. Click on the "LIKE" button below now!