The Dead Walk As Reports of Renewed GOP Health-Care Negotiations Sweep Washington

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Everybody thought the GOP’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace initiative had died a noisy death last week. Maybe not. Photo: Gene Page/AMC

Strange growling noises have emerged from dark corners of the White House and the Capitol: reports of a zombie reemergence of the GOP health-care initiative, just days after it was publicly buried by Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.

It seems the source of this alleged reanimation may be the GOP faction most attributed as causing Trumpcare’s death — hard-core conservatives associated with the House Freedom Caucus. Just before the story broke of renewed high-level GOP meetings on health care, Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama and a Freedom Caucus bravo who was an announced opponent of AHCA, let it be known he was filing a “discharge petition” to force a House vote on a simple Obamacare repeal (presumably similar to what Congress passed last year in the safe knowledge Barack Obama would veto it). It’s an extreme, long-shot measure to bypass the committee system and the leadership, made sensible only by the Freedom Caucus’s dogmatic belief those enslaved by Obamacare would rattle their chains and bellow their support for such a measure.

While it’s unclear whether Brooks’s determination to force health care back onto the GOP agenda had anything to do with it, something must have sent an impulse into the slowly cooling cadaver of the dead bill. According to the New York Times, there’s activity across the full spectrum of Republican opinion, with the unlikeliest ringleader of all:

The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.

While it is abundantly unclear how these talks will fare any differently than earlier talks that exposed the deep divide between conservatives who thought AHCA was too generous and “moderates” who though it was too stingy, particularly since every available compromise seemed to make the disastrous coverage and cost numbers the Congressional Budget Office assigned to the legislative product even worse. Bannon’s involvement is even stranger, though obviously if he were able to pull off a legislative feat that eluded Paul Ryan, the cheering in Breitbart-land would be ear-shattering.

The story keeps getting odder. At his daily press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer provided his usual clarity when asked about the reported revivification:

“Staff has met with individuals and listened to them,” he said. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time … So there has been a discussion and I believe there will be several more.”

Paul Ryan, probably wanting to make it clear Bannon hasn’t cut him out of the picture, churned still more fog into the air:

“We want to get it right,” Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday. “We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.”

Meanwhile, Ryan’s Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, was having nothing of it:

Mcconnell [sic] making clear Obamacare repeal efforts dead. “We have the existing law in place and we’ll just have to see how that works out.”

If that’s not enough Republican confusion for you, there are fresh reports today that some GOP senators don’t agree with McConnell, and remain interested in moving their own repeal-and-replace legislation, independently from what the House is thinking about doing.

And to top it all off, the president of the United State told a bipartisan group of senators last night that enacting a health-care bill was going to be a snap:

I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care. That’s such an easy one.”

All this talk had better materialize into action pretty quickly, or it may be too late. Anti-abortion activists are already eyeing the abandoned reconciliation instrument that was supposed to make passage of Trumpcare easier, and demanding that it be used for their pet cause, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that that item won’t wind up being filibustered by Democrats as part of a stopgap appropriations bill. For those still discussing health-care legislation, it’s use-it-or-lose-it time. The dead can’t walk much longer.

The Dead Are Walking As GOP Renews Health-Care Negotiations