On Monday evening, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) announced they would oppose a motion to proceed on the Trumpcare bill pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Lee opposes the bill because it doesn’t actually repeal Obamacare, instead re-enshrining its central principles while changing cost structure and boosting subsidies. Moran explained:
We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy. Furthermore, if we leave the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions, it is more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase.
Lee added, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”
Apparently, Lee and Moran were just the first senators to join Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in opposing the bill; more were expected to announce they couldn’t support the bill, which has a 20% approval rating in polls.
McConnell immediately announced his intention to move the House Republican bill to the floor as it stands, and use it as a husk for passing Obamacare repeal without replacement:
Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to appeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful. So, in the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up the House bill with the first amendment in order being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 and that was vetoed by then-President Obama: a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care.
This, of course, is what conservatives had called for all along. We will now find out which Republicans are unwilling to actually support repealing Obamacare at all, after lying about it for seven years.
Or perhaps we won’t. It’s quite possible that the Senate never gets the chance to get to a full repeal vote, since it would only take two Republicans beyond Collins to kill that chance.
Ironically, Lee may have saved Trump from himself on this bill — the bill is highly unpopular, would grant Trump ownership over Obamacare, and could cripple his re-election efforts. It’s unclear whether Trump realizes that; he’s now tweeted out three different positions on the events of the day in 12 hours.
But there’s no question that the widespread perception that Republicans have no ability to govern seems to be borne out here. So, who’s to blame?
Republican Moderate Liars. There’s an effort on the part of some Republican moderates to blame Lee for this failure — they say that Lee allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good. After all, the bill reformed Medicaid and included tax cuts, even if it left the Obamacare superstructure in place. Why not vote for something to change things? The answer is obvious: Republicans promised for seven long years to repeal Obamacare, not just trim around the edges. It’s not Lee’s fault that Republicans lied and that he wants to hold them to their promise. That’s the fault of the liars who promised repeal and then delivered Obamacare 2.0 with some ketchup.
President Trump. The president cannot escape blame here, nor should he. On major pieces of legislation — and this would be a signature piece of legislation — the president takes the lead. He doesn’t have to understand the intricacies of everything in the bill, but he has to understand something beyond “it’ll be tremendous and everybody will be covered.” He also has to beat the bushes for support, threaten and cajole, bring his pressure to bear. President Obama did that for nearly two years. Trump has been absolutely AWOL on this. Yesterday, he had a meeting with Senators who already support the bill. Also, he rode a firetruck. Then he tweeted some. He is deeply ambivalent about the bill in any case, as he should be: he promised the moon of universal coverage to voters in 2016, and the moon will never be achieved with repeal. That ambivalence came out in the form of endorsing the House bill, then crapping all over it publicly — which meant that Senators had to think about whether it was really worth risking a vote for a deeply unpopular bill when there was no guarantee Trump would stand by them in any case.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell. McConnell is supposed to be a legislative genius. He was bamboozled by President Trump and Ryan into embracing repeal and replace, a policy he didn’t originally support. Now he’ll go back to the drawing board. McConnell has a fractious caucus, to be sure. But that just means he should have had more leverage with Ryan and Trump in drawing up the bill in the first place.
House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan rammed a bad House bill through. He did so with some mild payoffs to conservatives. The bill was unpopular through and through. But Ryan wanted his Medicaid reform. Trump then ripped the bill as “mean,” leading to a rewrite in the Senate. At no point did Ryan and McConnell seem to coordinate their efforts with Trump. Perhaps that’s Trump’s fault. But Ryan has to do his job.
So, back to the drawing board.
The only problem is that all the same underlying problems remain for Republicans: they don’t agree on what to do, they were fibbing for years, and the president remains apathetic about the entire shebang. Good luck!