White House, congressional GOP pretending that they're still negotiating on health care

Imagine Mitch McConnell reading this headline and suddenly realizing that the House might yet get its act together well enough to leave a flaming bag of sh*t on the Senate’s doorstep.

Lotta hopeful talk here — Bannon’s negotiating with the Freedom Caucus and the moderates, Steve Scalise says they’re closer than ever to repealing ObamaCare, yadda yadda — but in the end the basic dilemma remains. How do you craft a bill that’s sufficiently fiscally spare to satisfy conservatives and sufficiently generous in helping Americans pay for insurance to satisfy centrists and populists? It sounds like this “reboot” is mostly rhetorical: Having taken a beating over the weekend for quitting on health care so soon after Democrats spent many months on it in 2009-10, Republicans are now going to pretend that they’re still working on it — intermittently, when they’re not busy on stuff that Trump is actually interested in, like infrastructure and tax reform. This party will not rest, it will spare no effort, to convince you that it cares, kinda sorta, about health-care reform.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters that “some of those who were in the ‘no’ camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work.” He did not, however, commit to a particular path forward.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it,” he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday acknowledged talks but no imminent plans for reviving the bill. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes,” he told reporters. “Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time.”…

Ryan told members that “we’re still going to try to find a way to get this done,” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.).“We spent years writing this bill — we’re not just going to walk away from it.”

We’re about 72 hours removed, by the way, from Trump, Paul Ryan, and pretty much every other Republican in Washington insisting that they were fully prepared to walk away from it. As for Ryan’s sudden embrace of open-ended timelines, did I hallucinate the last three weeks? The strategy from the beginning was that the only chance they had to pass such a lousy bill was to put it on the floor ASAP and dare House Republicans to vote it down. McConnell was getting ready to try to put the bill on the floor of the Senate immediately if it passed the House. The House initially hoped to hold the vote on the seventh anniversary of ObamaCare’s passage, just to make the repeal-and-replace victory that much more symbolic. It was Tom Cotton who spent the better part of March begging Ryan to slow down and devote due deliberative care to the bill commensurate with its effect on the health-care system. Now, three days removed from epic failure, Ryan’s a fan of slowing down and getting things right. If, against all odds, we really do get a better bill out of this effort, will everyone who blamed the Freedom Caucus for blocking a terrible one credit them with having forced a big rethink?

Anyway. How’s McConnell taking the news that this flaming bag might end up on his porch after all? As well as can be expected:

His deputy, John Cornyn, isn’t any more enthusiastic. If the House thinks they’re going to ram through an unpopular bill and have the Senate rubber-stamp it via reconciliation, says Cornyn, they should think again:

House conservatives like Mo Brooks are threatening to file a discharge petition — typically a measure used by the House minority, not by members of the majority — to force a floor vote on a clean repeal bill of the sort that passed in 2015. But what would be the point? It’d never pass the Senate, especially if Cornyn’s serious about abandoning reconciliation. (Full repeal likely couldn’t be done via reconciliation anyway unless the GOP got verrrrry aggressive in interpreting parliamentary procedures.) Moderate House Republicans like Tom Cole have also been nudging the Senate to give up on reconciliation and focus on a deal with Democrats, knowing full well that Dems will never agree to a compromise that replaces, rather than tweaks, ObamaCare. All of which is to say, insofar as House Republicans really are working on a health-care reboot, their goal probably has less to do with passing something that can become law than passing something that (a) isn’t quite the political albatross that the AHCA was and (b) can then be punted to the Senate, where McConnell and Cornyn can take the heat for killing it. It’s a blame-shifting measure, fundamentally. If it wasn’t, if it was a sincere measure to revive health-care reform, would there be reports floating around today that Trump wants to combine infrastructure and tax-reform as his next big move? The White House has moved on. This health-care blather coming from the House is just theater for Republicans who are pissed that they’d throw in the towel on health care so quickly.

Here’s Ryan at today’s presser showing off his newfangled interest in getting health care right, not necessarily fast. Interesting exit question via David Graham: Did the AHCA’s failure save Trump’s presidency? If a bill that unpopular had passed, it might have wrecked his political capital for years to come.