COLUMBIA — Despite the near-impossible odds his health care bill now faces in Congress, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham continued to passionately argue for the measure in a televised debate Monday night.
The prime-time event — which pitted Graham, R-S.C., and his bill co-author Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., against Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. — came at the end of a disastrous day for his bill's chances of passage.
With Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, coming out against the measure, the bill appeared all but officially dead. Given unified Democratic opposition, the GOP can only afford two defections and still pass the bill. Collins was the third.
But explaining why he appeared for the debate anyway, Graham pointed to his personal experiences with health care trauma, including the deaths of both of his parents at a young age.
He argued, as he has relentlessly for many months, that Obamacare is failing in South Carolina and around the country — "We wouldn't be having this show if it was working" — and noted that only one insurer continues to sell Affordable Care Act plans in the Palmetto State.
"Where we go from here determines a little bit about who we want to be as a nation," he said in the CNN event in Washington. "I want to provide high-quality health care for every American, including my family and yours, but we've got to find a way to make it so without bankrupting the country."
Sanders countered by pointing to the major health care associations that oppose Graham's bill, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Cancer Society, to name a few.
Asked by a Pennsylvania Republican what the Senate can do to lower the cost of premiums before the open enrollment window, Graham said politicians need to "be honest with ourselves that what our Democratic friends did is not working."
He continued to make the case that health care would be more manageable at the state level because it would make it clearer who citizens should gripe to if they have problems.
"This is the biggest change in health care in my lifetime," Graham said, "giving people a chance to complain to somebody who cares."
Sanders sought to tamp down some of his own more vociferous supporters, while simultaneously arguing that the premise of their concerns are on point.
"These are wonderful gentlemen, and I know nobody up here wants to see anybody die," Sanders said. "But you tell me what happens when somebody who has cancer, somebody who has a serious heart condition, somebody who has a life-threatening disease suddenly loses the health insurance that they have."
As he has since last Thursday, Graham reiterated that he wants the Senate to vote on his bill even if it fails — a message aimed directly at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"We're going to press on," Graham said. "It's OK to vote. It's OK to fall short, if you do, for something you believe in."
As evidence that he is not promoting the bill out of pure partisanship, Graham touted his bipartisan efforts in other policy areas, including immigration and climate change.
"What I'm not going to do is continue the same old crap and tell you everything is fine," he said.