Republicans agree that the American Health Care Act will have a big impact on the 2018 midterm elections, but they have widely divergent ideas on how. The White House, including President Donald Trump himself, argues that a failure to pass the AHCA will infuriate voters who have been waiting for seven years for Republicans to take some meaningful action against ObamaCare, a point that Paul Ryan and House GOP leadership have emphasized as well.
Yesterday, Senator Tom Cotton pushed back. The conservative Republican warned that House Republicans are about to “walk the plank” for a bill that has zero chance of passage in the Senate, and that the resulting failure could end up “BTU-ing” the Republican majority:
“I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, ‘Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote,” Cotton told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos. …
On “This Week,” Cotton said, “I just do not think that this bill can pass the Senate, and therefore I think the House should take a pause and try to get as close as we can to a good result before we send it to the Senate.”
When pressed by Stephanopolous to clarify if he was suggesting that House Republicans who vote for the bill “are going to pay the price without getting any benefit,” Cotton noted that Republicans have other agenda goals in addition to health care reform.
“We have majorities in the House and the Senate and the White House not only to repeal Obamacare and get health care reform right, but to reform our taxes and our regulations and build up our military and accomplish many other things,” Cotton said. “And I don’t want to see the House majority put at risk on a bill that is not going to pass the Senate.”
“That’s why I think we should take a pause, try to solve as many of the problems on both Medicaid and the individual insurance market in this bill in the House and then allow the Senate to take its work up,” Cotton said. “The bill probably can be fixed, but it’s going to take a lot of carpentry on that framework.”
Cotton explains the “BTU-ing” as the reaction to an attempt by House Democrats in 1993 to impose a new tax on heating energy, which never even came to a vote in the Senate. That, Cotton says, led to the loss of the 40-year Democratic majority in the House. That’s one event to blame, but among many; while pushing new taxes certainly turned out to be tone-deaf at the time, other issues had much more impact on the 1994 midterm elections. The House banking scandal in 1992 made the entire chamber look corrupt, for one thing, and Democrats didn’t do themselves any favors with a business-as-usual reaction to its exposure. That is why Newt Gingrich framed the 1994 midterms as a reform election in the Contract with America, which included in its major planks rules changes that would force the House to operate under the laws it passed on everyone else.
By far, though, the impact of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health-care “reform” drove the election debate in 1994. It’s odd that Cotton didn’t cite that as an example, because it is much better known today as a cautionary tale than Clinton’s efforts at a BTU tax. The Health Security Act, better known at the time as HillaryCare, didn’t even manage to get a vote; it got tied up in internecine fighting among Democrats in the face of solid opposition by Republicans. After several attempts by the Clinton White House to get legislative action on the takeover of the heathcare system, Democrats booted it until after the midterms — and Republicans made 1994 a national referendum on socialized medicine much more than they did on BTUs or even taxes.
After that, though, Democrats felt that they had lost because they had stalled too long. They applied that lesson in 2009-10, which is why Democrats got so desperate to pass ObamaCare that they ignored polling that showed majorities against the idea. That ended up backfiring as well, eventually reducing Democrats to their worst standing in all level of politics since the Hoover administration. That shows that the real lesson of 1994 was that Americans don’t like government control of economies.
That lesson might have some application here, too. If Republicans wind up doing nothing in this session of Congress to unwind ObamaCare, that may be the larger risk over doing something incremental. If the Senate refuses to move on an incremental package rather than doing some “carpentry” to get to a conference committee, then that might be the bigger problem.