U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham didn’t mince words Thursday while pitching his solution to the country’s health care debate to a group of Greenville business leaders.
Speaking before a crowd at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s Advocacy Lunch at the Westin Poinsett in downtown Greenville, the Republican said former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is “collapsing.”
Graham said he believes the vision encapsulated in the bill he put forward on Sept. 13 with fellow GOP senators Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller, and Ron Johnson, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, is the best option to repeal and replace the current law.
He said the proposal would provide states with annual block grants through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1997.
Grant dollars would replace federal money currently being spent on Medicaid Expansion, Obamacare tax credits, cost-sharing reduction subsidies, and the basic health plan dollars, according to Graham’s website. The ultimate goal is providing affordable, credible care to all Americans, he said.
“One thing I can tell you is Obamacare is not affordable and it’s not credible. We’re down to one provider in the state of South Carolina,” Graham said. “I want to take the money we would’ve spent on Obamacare in Washington and send it back home and let us do a better job.”
Graham said the bill, which faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass in the Senate with a simple majority, covers pre-existing medical conditions.
“I wouldn’t want anyone in my family not to be covered because they were sick and I’m not going to let that happen to your family,” he said.
In fact, states would be mandated to cover pre-existing illnesses, he said.
“That means there are 50 different approaches to how to deal with pre-existing illnesses, but everybody will have to cover people who have been sick before,” Graham noted. “Each state can look at it the way they’d like to look at it. It’s got to be credible and affordable under federal law.”
The bill has received strong support from President Donald J. Trump, who expressed his disappointment in July after a bill proposed by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was defeated by a 51-49 vote.
The defeat included a “no” vote from Graham’s good friend U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But Graham is hopeful that McCain and the rest of his GOP cohorts will back the bill this time around.
Graham said he has already garnered the support of his fellow South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, who would be in charge of the program in the Palmetto State.
McMaster said during a fundraiser in Greenville Wednesday that Graham’s bill would be better than Obamacare.
“It’s certainly better than what we have now,” McMaster told reporters following the fundraiser for the Upstate Republican Women at a home in the Parkins Mill area.
McMaster called Obamacare a “collapsing mammoth” that violates the Constitution, stifles free enterprise, and makes people dependent on the government.
He reminded reporters that he was one of the attorney generals that unsuccessfully challenged Obamacare’s constitutionality in 2010.
“The governor of South Carolina will be in charge of this program,” Graham said. “If you don’t like what they do here, then go complain to him instead of some bureaucrat in Washington who could really give a damn about what you think.”
Graham also discussed immigration, tax reform, North Korea, and a few other issues during Thursday’s meeting.
He articulated his support for “Dreamer kids,” or immigrants brought to the country illegally as children currently protected from deportation by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, also called DACA.
The Trump administration has announced its intention to dismantle DACA, while the president has publicly voiced his support for Dreamers.
Graham said he wants to keep “talented,” “law-abiding” people in the country.
“We want good people here,” he said. “I’m not looking to be a hero; I’m looking to be Lindsey. And that’s all I can be.”
Graham said he supports action to curb the nuclear aspirations North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“For 20 years, Republicans and Democrats have kicked the can down the road,” Graham said. “If we capitulate and give him what he wants, which is to have a nuclear missile that can hit the homeland, then that’s a bad deal. I don’t want to live my life afraid of what they might do.”
He said China “owns 90 percent” of North Korea’s economy, which means it has substantial leverage on its longtime ally.
“We need to make it China’s problem and the world’s problem, not just ours,” Graham said. “The military option is on the table. But the military option is catastrophic. A lot of people will get hurt or killed.”
Graham said he is behind Trump on North Korea. He said the president’s national security team is the best he’s ever seen.
He also issued a warning to Chinese and North Korean officials.
“Don’t miscalculate Trump,” Graham said. “He beat me and 16 other Republicans. He beat the Clinton machine. He is the president of all of us. There are days when I say, ‘Oh no.’ But he deserves my support where I can give it.”
Graham was presented with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit of Enterprise Award during Thursday’s event. The annual award recognizes members of Congress who have demonstrated strong support for businesses.
Carlos Phillips, president and CEO of the Greenville Chamber, said he was pleased to have Graham at the event.
“He spoke directly on a number of issues,” Phillips said. “Based on the response from the crowd, I would say he did a good job.”
Phillips said he hopes politicians in Washington D.C. and elsewhere will find a way to put aside their differences.
“I would love to see folks working together to make our cities, our communities, and our states better,” he said. “That’s the only way it can happen. We have to work together.”
Staff reporter Rudolph Bell contributed to this report.