The Senate could vote on health-care legislation and clear the decks for progress on tax cuts and other issues before July 4. Or it could be forced to cancel its monthlong August recess as intra-party divisions over the American Health Care Act (not to mention the big items standing behind it in the queue) drag on. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats might decide to bring the Senate as close to a standstill as its minority position allows them in a protest against the unprecedented secrecy with which Senate Republicans are proceeding. Or they could decide to get out of the way and let the GOP’s divisions and unpopular policy impulses occupy the entire national spotlight.
Who knows which way the Senate scheduling winds will blow? Only one man: Mitch McConnell. He is responsible for the extreme secrecy of the health-care legislative process, which is reportedly designed to reduce pressure on GOP senators from affected interest and advocacy groups, but is rapidly becoming a public-relations problem in itself. It has, on the other hand, produced the ancillary benefit for Republicans of making it hard for their Democratic colleagues to plan their own activities. Some suspect the talk of canceled recesses and a legislative logjam actually disguise a McConnell plan to spring a fully formed health-care bill on a stunned Senate very soon. And indeed: both the Wall Street Journal and Politico are reporting today that the Senate GOP is preparing to hold votes next week if the votes are there and all sorts of difficult issues are worked out (which strikes me as one of those “If I had some ham, I’d make a ham sandwich, if I had some bread” propositions).
Policy differences aside, there are some procedural obstacles to quick Senate action on health care, most notably the need for a CBO score (supposedly on its way) and Senate parliamentarian rulings. But Democrats will at least temporarily test the political impact of adding to those obstacles, beginning tonight and tomorrow, according to a Senate aide who spoke to HuffPost’s Sam Stein. They plan to object to unanimous consent requests, make motions (which won’t pass) to compel committee consideration of health-care legislation; and make extended speeches both condemning all the secrecy and contrasting it with how Democrats handled the Affordable Care Act. They may well be considering more extended and more controversial extended action like holding up committee hearings on other issues or delaying confirmations.
In the end, Senate Democrats don’t have the votes to do more than make noise. Senators rarely toss off the partisan yoke on procedural matters, so even Republicans who might wind up voting against the ultimate legislation are not going to abandon McConnell on whatever devious strategy he is pursuing for getting the bill to the floor. In the end I suspect he’ll maintain the suspense until he has 50 votes and is reasonably sure he can spin the bill as less “mean” than the House bill, to use the president’s term. At that point he could move very fast, and perhaps when the country is absorbed with something else. That could be next week as we are hearing today, or it could be in the Dog Days of August if not later.