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Heller on GOP Obamacare replacement: 'Not a “yes,” yet'

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada (KSNV file)

Republican Dean Heller is now the guy reporters chase in Senate office hallways in Washington.

“I'm not going to negotiate with the press,” he told a CNN reporter Thursday, who asked about the latest on the health care negotiations.

Heller’s suddenly in demand. Last Friday, he became the GOP face of opposition to his own party’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“It doesn't protect Nevadans on Medicaid and the most vulnerable Nevadans," he said, while standing next to Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada.

In the week since, “I've probably, since my announcement last Friday, been to 30 meetings on this,” he told News 3.

Heller won't spill the beans about talks underway. But he says he's not near a "Yes" yet as he heads back to Nevada for the July 4 recess.

“The bottom line is this. I’m going to go back to the state of Nevada, with whatever the proposal comes out next week and ask them if they can live with it. If it’s not good for the state of Nevada, I’ll vote against it,” Heller says.

Heller and the governor's big beef is the axe the Senate bill takes to Medicaid, which under Obamacare, brought health care to more than 200,000 Nevadans.

Heller says the cuts, in total for Nevada, would amount to $3.5 billion over the next ten years.

“This is how much this bill is going to cost the state of Nevada, and they ask me to vote against my Nevada families and at this point, I refuse to do so,” he says.

Heller has been in the crosshairs.

A pro-Trump PAC unleashed on him this week, running TV and web ads, something the senator brought up with the president when he saw him Tuesday at the white house.

“I did get my message across that it certainly isn't helpful in this process,” Heller tells me.

The group, America First Policies, has since pulled the ads, saying it “is pleased to learn that Senator Dean Heller has decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues.”

In Heller’s view, the problem is the Senate bill tries to do two politically tough things at once: repeal and replace Obamacare, and enact sweeping entitlement reform with huge cuts to Medicaid.

Thursday, the non-partisan congressional budget office updated its estimates of the bill, saying that it would trim Medicaid, the program for low-income and needy Americans, by 35-percent by 2036.

Heller says the two goals need to be separated.

“I think if we were talking just health care, I think we could get Democrats on board, talk to them about what needs to be done. They’ll even agree with you there are problems with Obamacare,” Heller says.

Heller heads into a tough reelection handling a health care hot-potato, taking incoming from both sides.

“I don't care. I'm a big boy. Broad shoulders. All those words. But take your best shot,” he says.

And they will.

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