Mitch McConnell’s attempt to resuscitate his health-care bill could be derailed by any number of developments. The Senate parliamentarian could rule that all the deregulatory measures the majority leader has used to win over his far-right faction (and imperil nonaffluent sick people) cannot be passed through reconciliation. The Congressional Budget Office could find that the concessions McConnell has offered his “moderates” would be inadequate to avert mass coverage losses. President Trump could start a nuclear war over Twitter.
But the single greatest threat facing Trumpcare, right now, may be this: Republican senators could, conceivably, listen to what their constituents think of the bill, and then vote accordingly.
McConnell had worked diligently to impede such a development. The Kentucky senator planned to have his caucus vote on the bill just days after it became public, forgoing any hearings or extended deliberation so as to ensure the deed was done before the July 4 recess — after all, the more time Republican senators spent with their constituents, the greater the risk that a few would lose the nerve required to throw millions off of their health insurance for the sake of increasing income inequality.
The majority leader misjudged the hazards of trying to write a health-care bill as though it were a term paper for a course he had little interest in: The legislation his staff slapped together in an overcaffeinated frenzy received a failing grade from the CBO. The budget office’s ugly numbers on coverage loss and affordability strengthened the resolve of the bill’s defectors. The vote was delayed.
But McConnell appears to have been right about one thing: Extended contact between voters and their representatives is not good for Trumpcare’s health.
As the Washington Post reports:
For the 15th year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spent July 4 marching through this town of 1,331, a short boat ride away from Canada. She walked and waved, next to marching bands and Shriner-driven lobster boats. Her constituents cheered — and then asked whether she would vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“There was only one issue. That’s unusual. It’s usually a wide range of issues,” Collins said in an interview after the parade. “I heard, over and over again, encouragement for my stand against the current version of the Senate and House health-care bills. People were thanking me, over and over again. ‘Thank you, Susan!’ ‘Stay strong, Susan!’”
…[Alaska senator Lisa] Murkowski, who has criticized the Better Care Reconciliation Act for defunding Planned Parenthood and cutting Medicaid, was deluged by health-care questions as she walked a parade in the small town of Wrangell. Kirk Garbisch, 63, thanked her for being “the voice of reason” and slowing down the bill.
“She’s looking at the issues and not just following party lines,” he said. “There have been so few Republicans who can get in some good reason, rather than blindly following.”
Murkowski was hearing that particular sort of praise again and again.
The New York Times offers a similar account:
On Tuesday, Ms. Collins and the few other Republican senators who ventured out — most of them opponents of the current bill, and most in rather remote locales — were largely rewarded with encouragement to keep fighting…Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was met with chants of “Vote no!” in a Baton Rouge church on Friday as he discussed the state’s recovery from the 2016 floods … “Health care! Health care! Health care!” Hilary Georgia, a part-time resident of Eastport, cried as Ms. Collins passed the spectators in camp chairs unfolded before neat wooden houses.
One Republican Trumpcare skeptic, Nevada’s Dean Heller, did receive public encouragement to support the legislation — during a trip to a county in northern Nevada that backed Trump over Clinton by a 53.5 percent margin. And even there, the crowd seems to have been less interested in cutting government health-care subsidies than delivering a win for their beloved president. As the Times writes:
At a late-morning parade in Ely, a small city in northern Nevada surrounded for miles by only sagebrush and juniper trees, Senator Dean Heller, who has come out against the bill, rode down Aultman Street on a horse.
“Get in line behind Trump!” one man shouted, while an older man offered, “Thanks for protecting Medicare!”
That first line of argument is telling. The GOP’s health-care bill is historically unpopular, boasting as little as 12 percent support in some polls. And its specific provisions — sharp reductions to Medicaid and subsidies for working people, large tax cuts for the rich, measures to make insurance plans less comprehensive — are even less popular than the legislation, itself.
A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that only 10 percent of Republicans want Congress to reform Obamacare into a stingier program — which is precisely what Mitch McConnell aims to do.
Donald Trump’s approval rating is unusually low for a first-year president. But next to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, he’s practically Beyoncé.
A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that Trump’s favorability is underwater in two key battlegrounds he won last fall: In North Carolina, just 46 percent of voters approve of the president while 50 percent disapprove; in Iowa, those numbers are 46 and 49, respectively.
Those figures aren’t pretty, but they’re not Trumpcare-ugly: In the Tar Heel State, just 33 percent of voters want McConnell’s bill to pass, while just 27 percent of Iowans would like Republicans to undermine the fiscal health of rural hospitals, so as to fund a capital-gains tax cut for millionaires.
American voters are not known for their lengthy memories or attention spans. American politicians are not known for showing deference to public opinion. Mitch McConnell could still make Trumpcare happen. But there’s a reason he wanted to get it passed quickly and quietly: As South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said of the health-care bill last month, “This is not like a fine wine — it doesn’t get better over time.”