How Fred Upton Resurrected Zombie Trumpcare

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After appearing to strike a mighty blow against the revised American Health Care Act earlier this week, Upton flip-flopped and led “moderates” back into the party fold. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

As we head toward what looks like a successful House vote to pass the revised American Health Care Act, it is instructive to remember how this looked just two days ago, and what, precisely, changed the bill’s trajectory from Palookaville to a majority.

Tuesday morning, Michigan representative Fred Upton’s surprise announcement of opposition to the bill was widely interpreted as a coup de grâce. As Joan McCarter put it:

Upton has been a reliable vote for and member of House Republican leadership. He was one of the votes that got the original Trumpcare out of committee. If Upton is bailing, he leaves a very big opening for any Republican who’s been having second thoughts to follow in his wake.

Even as pundits began writing their obituaries for Zombie Trumpcare, Upton had other plans. By Tuesday night he was circulating a proposed amendment to the bill: a paltry $8 billion punch-up of funding available to states that chose to get rid of protections for people with preexisting conditions, to finance high-risk pools. Wednesday morning Upton met with the president, his amendment in hand. Trump and other Republican leaders quickly accepted it — why not? It was an entirely symbolic change since the bill already included a $130 billion slush fund for states to use in addressing various problems created by the bill — and next thing you know, Upton and another Tuesday defector, Representative Billy Long, were announcing they were back onboard. Soon other supposed “no” voters were flipping, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Slate’s Jim Newell said out loud what many observers may have been thinking: The whole thing looked like a setup:

Leaders have been able to spin Upton’s amendment as a big win for moderates, creating the sense of a moving train headed, finally, to a vote. It was a much bigger gift to leaders than leaders’ gift to moderates, a relatively small boost in funding to protect sick people from the damage that the main architecture of the bill still does them. This bill was stuck on Tuesday, not solely because of Upton, and now it’s moving toward a vote, thanks to Upton. Neat trick.

Whether or not is was a pre-planned “trick,” it is incontrovertible that by conspicuously flip-flopping Upton did the bill a lot more good than if he had just quietly supported it from the get-go. His largely meaningless amendment made it possible for the very “moderates” resisting the bill —particularly after House Freedom Caucus members pushed it to the right by providing states the option of gutting key Obamacare protections — to claim they’d won the last concessions before the vote. It was B.S., but politically powerful B.S. In the still-unlikely event Donald Trump eventually gets to sign legislation repealing-and-replacing Obamacare, Fred Upton should definitely get a souvenir pen.

How Fred Upton Resurrected Zombie Trumpcare