When the Senate Republican leadership unveiled its latest plan to roll back Obamacare, senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins quickly announced opposition. With the two free passes to vote no claimed, the next Republican to oppose the bill would deny it a majority. That Republican would apparently be Nevada’s Dean Heller, who had denounced in unequivocal terms the plan’s enormous Medicaid cuts, which are unchanged in the latest bill. But Heller has remained curiously silent.
Ominously, Mike Allen reports, “Republicans keep telling me Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a third apparent ‘nay,’ will be ‘bought off.’” If Republicans can manage to buy off Senator
Geary — I mean, Heller — then they stand a decent chance of working the remaining senators who have expressed concern about the bill.
One of the key dynamics of this legislative saga is that Republican objections to the bill, however strong or unambiguous, tend to melt away in the face of partisan pressure. Senator Bill Cassidy had once articulated the strongest opposition to Trumpcare, arguing that coverage gains in Obamacare should actually be expanded rather than rolled back. Cassidy endorsed the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” saying he would not support any bill that makes medical care unaffordable for an American with preexisting conditions. His new version of the Kimmel Test seems to be that he will not vote for anything unless it satisfies the following conditions: (1) It is a piece of legislation (2) that Republicans want to pass.
Meanwhile, even as of a few days ago, reports indicated that an outright majority of Republican senators rejected Ted Cruz’s amendment to allow insurers to sell plans that don’t protect preexisting conditions. Now that resistance is “melting away,” reports Caitlin Owens, because, as a GOP aide tells her, “No one wants to be bad guy.” (You might think “bad guy” means a person who denies medical care to sick people, but in this context, it indicates precisely the opposite.)
That leaves Heller up next. “This bill would mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans, and many Nevadans. I’m telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans,” he said in June. That statement leaves no room for ambiguity, no need for reading the fine points of the revised bill. And yet Heller is silent and Republicans are cackling about buying him off, so the bill seems to be very much alive at the moment.