Senate Republicans’ approach to passing health-care reform has been shaped by one core conviction: Their bill would rapidly wither upon exposure to sunlight.
Therefore, Mitch McConnell would hide his plan for restructuring one-fifth of the American economy from the public’s prying eyes. His party would hold no hearings and seek no expert input or bipartisan support. They would vote on the bill within one week of unveiling their first draft — even if that meant acting before the Congressional Budget Office had time to assess the implications of their last-minute changes. All concerns about procedural propriety and democratic norms would be sacrificed to the overriding priority of getting the deed 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.
“This is not like a fine wine — it doesn’t get better over time,” South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham recently said of the health-care bill he ostensibly supports. Oklahoma senator James Inhofe said in an interview about the legislation Monday, “I’m not sure what it does. I just know it’s better than Obamacare.” This was the mantra: Move quickly, in blind faith, and don’t sweat the details.
Alas, it seems that McConnell overestimated how long he could leave his bill out in the sun: On Tuesday, the Senate Majority Leader announced that the vote would be postponed until after the July 4 recess, as moderate and conservative defections made it impossible to even advance the bill to debate.
Going into Tuesday, Senators Susan Collins and Dean Heller had already declared their opposition to the current bill, out of concern that its Medicaid cuts would hurt their most vulnerable constituents — while its reforms to the private market would do nothing to bring down premiums. Senators Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, meanwhile, declared the bill’s subsidies too generous, and its deregulatory measures too modest, to earn their support.
That provided the bill’s opponents with two more votes than they needed to stop Trumpcare in its tracks. And once the legislation was already derailed, plenty of other Republicans found the courage to oppose it. On Tuesday, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski declared herself unready to “proceed” with the legislation as written, while West Virginia’s Shelly Moore Capito decided that the current draft was “not the right fix” for her state. Joining them on the bandwagon was Ohio’s Rob Portman, whose ambitions to combat the opioid epidemic in his state would be compromised by drastic Medicaid cuts — a fact that he said expressed “serious concerns” about on Tuesday. By the end of the afternoon, even Jerry Moran of deep red Kansas had gotten in on the mutiny.
Donald Trump called all Senate Republicans to the White House for a meeting late Tuesday afternoon. Afterwards, the president reiterated his commitment to passing a bill he cannot understand, let alone defend.
For his part, McConnell is far from ready to throw in the towel. Axios reports that the majority leader aims to reach an agreement on health-care by Friday. This would allow the CBO to score the new plan over the July recess, thereby paving the way for Trumpcare’s speedy passage upon Congress’s return.
Reaching such an agreement will not be easy, especially since some of the defectors’ requests are contradictory (moderates wanting a bill that looks more like Obamacare, conservatives one that bears less of a resemblance). Heller and Collins appear to be intransigent in their opposition, while anything remotely like the current proposal is bound to devastate rural states like Alaska and West Virginia. Still, the bill’s draconian Medicaid cuts have gifted McConnell with $188 billion that he can use to sweeten the deal for fence-sitting senators (for example, Portman has previously suggested $45 billion in funding for addiction treatment would be the price of his vote).
The majority leader has also warned his caucus that failure to pass a bill now would require them to work out a deal to prop up Obamacare with Democrats. Susan Collins has suggested that she relishes that prospect, but few other Republicans share that sentiment — least of all, the one in the Oval Office, who has expressed a preference for simply continuing to sabotage the current law until it fully collapses.
Anyhow, McConnell & Co. may find a means of getting their odious, unpopular bill signed into law, yet. But they wanted to pass this quickly and quietly for a reason. As Graham said, this isn’t like a fine wine: A plan to sacrifice the lives of thousands of poor and working people to pad the passive income of plutocrats isn’t going to get more (politically) palatable with time.