Trumpcare may or may not grind out enough votes to pass the House. In the Senate, it’s hopelessly short of the 50 votes it needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out a wildly aggressive time frame, under which his chamber would essentially xerox the House bill and pass it into law within a few days — no hearings, no negotiations. A few weeks ago, I suggested the possibility that McConnell’s plan was not wildly aggressive but actually designed to fail. His latest comments make this scenario seem far more likely.
“We’re not slowing down,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “We will reach a conclusion on health care next week.” And while he is brimming with certainty about the speed of the process, he is hardly confident of its outcome: “We’ll either pass something that will achieve a goal that we’ve been working on,” he said. “Or not.”
The only possible way a health-care bill could pass the Senate would be a heroic feat of negotiation to bridge the chasm between Republicans who think the House bill provides too much care (Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz) and those who think it provides too little (a group numbering perhaps as many as a dozen, depending on how one interprets various fretting remarks). Republicans can lose no more than two votes in the upper chamber. What’s more, one of their senators, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson, is out indefinitely while recovering from back surgeries. Isakson’s absence in the short term cuts the GOP’s margin for error in half, which means — unless he rushes back faster than expected — a vote next week is all the more hopeless.
If this plan were being pursued by a John Boehner or a Paul Ryan, one might chalk it up to terrible vote-counting or wild optimism. But McConnell isn’t a hopeless optimist. He’s the smartest political tactician of the modern era. The default assumption on any McConnell plan should be that it rationally pursues a coherent goal. In this case, McConnell has almost certainly sized up his caucus and grasped that Trumpcare stands no chance of resuscitation. A long bleed-out on health care will make Trump and his party even less popular, and chew up precious months during which the Republicans could instead be making use of their full control of government. The plan being pursued by McConnell is that of a man who wants to cut his losses fast.