When Will We Know Zombie Trumpcare Is Finally Dead?

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Die, monster, die! Photo: AMC

With the failure of the original Trumpcare bill last month, and the apparent failure of Zombie Trumpcare this week, Washington is in a holding pattern as everyone awaits the GOP’s next step in its quest to repeal and replace Obamacare. It may be a while before Paul Ryan or Donald Trump admit it just ain’t happening any time soon, and it’s theoretically possible they’ll yet pull a rabbit out of a hat. So how are the rest of us to understand when we can safely bury the unquiet spirit of this legislative monster?

Here are some scenarios:

1) The Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of Zombie Trumpcare is a disaster. One reason the House was in a big hurry to pass Zombie Trumpcare was the fear that the Congressional Budget Office would score it as even worse than the original bill, which had horrible, horrible coverage numbers. Now that the bill is jammed again, the CBO may find the time to paint it with the colors of death. This could even be a good reason for the House leadership to bury it altogether before that can happen.

2) The House passes a fiscal year 2017 reconciliation bill that doesn’t include Zombie Trumpcare. The legislative vehicle for Zombie Trumpcare is a budget-reconciliation bill that includes another political imperative for Republicans: the defunding of Planned Parenthood. At some point, the anti-abortion movement is going to emulate a passenger in a fast-moving car whose driver has fallen asleep at the wheel, by taking over the vehicle and demanding that the GOP expedite its journey to the Oval Office without the excess baggage of a politically unviable health-care bill. RIP Zombie Trumpcare at that point.

3) Congress begins work on a 2018 reconciliation bill to cut taxes. The congressional-budget process can only handle one fiscal year’s work at a time. Once Congress gets moving on a budget resolution for fiscal year 2018 — which will very likely authorize a reconciliation bill to enact the tax-cut package Republicans are already drooling over — they will have to wind up fiscal year 2017. So they cannot just let the bill with Zombie Trumpcare in it sit around forever, even if the anti-abortion folk don’t hijack it. With the tax frenzy underway, it’s curtains for Zombie Trumpcare.

4) The House passes Zombie Trumpcare and the Senate ignores it. It is unclear to me how House Republicans will ever find a formula that satisfies a majority of its own members, given the inherent tension between members who want to maintain most of Obamacare’s coverage accomplishments and those who emphatically don’t. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the bill does get out of the House. Then what happens? Probably nothing, given the even greater tensions — and even smaller margin for error — in the Senate. Most likely, House passage of Zombie Trumpcare would cause the Senate to start all over on its own Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation, which could take quite some time. And then, at best, you’d have two very different bills, and very difficult House–Senate conferences, and then a fresh challenge in putting together majorities in both chambers for an entirely new product. Sounds like a slow and painful death for Zombie Trumpcare to me.

5) Republicans in either the House or the White House choose a different strategy for health-care policy. There have already been occasional voices, especially in the Senate, calling for an abandonment of the budget-reconciliation process for enacting health-care legislation, on the grounds that the rules prevent a full and simultaneous repeal and replacement of Obamacare. The only alternative, however, is to run the risk of a Democratic filibuster, which means you’d need bipartisan legislation from the get-go.

One word to that effect from Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, or Mitch McConnell, and the whole strategy underlying Zombie Trumpcare could crumble. In that case, this unfortunate piece of legislation would probably be forgotten like yesterday’s roadkill.

When Will We Know Zombie Trumpcare Is Finally Dead?