Ted Cruz, key conservative negotiator: I have no idea what's in the Senate health-care bill

Do understand, this isn’t a matter of Mitch McConnell freezing out his old nemesis on what’s going on in the Senate. Cruz has been working with McConnell and others for months on drafting a plan. He’s organized numerous meetings of a Republican “working group” with participants from across the GOP’s ideological spectrum and has repeatedly proclaimed his willingness to compromise to get something done. It’s all part of a political makeover. Having alienated so many colleagues before the 2016 presidential primaries with his anti-establishment no-compromise approach, Cruz is angling to rebuild relationships before his next run in 2024. He was derided last year as a grandstander whose biggest “achievement” was ringleading the futile 2013 shutdown to block the implementation of ObamaCare. Now he’s aiming to be known as the man who midwifed an unlikely health-care meeting of the minds between conservatives like him, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee and the Susan Collinses and Lisa Murkowskis in the caucus. The principled obstructionism of Cruz 1.0 was swept away last spring by Trump along with so many other tea-party conceits. Cruz 2.0 will be more of a can-do politician willing to make the best deals, deals so great you won’t believe it. If he pulls it off, he’ll have quite a feather in his cap for his Senate reelection campaign next year.

Unless, of course, the country roundly hates the final bill that lands on Trump’s desk. But what are the odds of that?

Anyway. The point is that Cruz is a critical player in getting something through the Senate — yet here he is last night, with McConnell promising a draft bill tomorrow, telling Mark Levin that he has no idea what’s in the bill yet. Essentially he and every other Republican in the “working group” haven’t been working on an actual bill; what they’ve been working on are demands which they’ve then submitted to McConnell and the leadership team to accommodate in the form of a legislative product. If McConnell sticks to his schedule of holding a vote next Thursday, Cruz and allies like Mike Lee will have one short week to read the bill, demand changes, spend a few hours debating it on the floor, and then face a gut-check on whether to pass the revised version, assuming that there are revisions. It’s embarrassingly opaque procedural sleight of hand and Levin calls him on it here, gently reminding him that the right opposed secrecy in the passage of ObamaCare. Cruz has slick answers for that: ObamaCare has been debated ad nauseam the past seven years so we don’t need another public debate, and since Democrats are already committed to voting no, there’s no need for transparent negotiations. The GOP is essentially negotiating with itself; making the process public would do nothing except give Schumer’s caucus an opportunity to, er, grandstand and obstruct.

He’s treating transparency as a means, in other words, rather than an end. To hear Cruz tell it, transparency is worth caring about only when it’s strictly necessary to move the process forward. If the GOP needs Democratic votes to get something through, if it needs to agree to committee hearings and extended floor debate to satisfy Dem fencesitters, fine. But if it doesn’t, if it has the numbers to pass whatever it likes, then opacity is a venial sin at worst. Would any tea partier circa 2009 have accepted that argument from Obama about his filibuster-proof Senate majority? It’s true that the country has spent seven years debating health care in broad strokes, with Republicans making their grievances against the ACA plain, but the nuances of the Senate bill that purports to replace it are a different matter. For instance, how much time was spent in the House debating the kind of important fact that the AHCA would conceivably do major financial damage to Trump’s base of older, rural voters? How much time will be spent in the Senate this week weighing the consequences of an enormous Medicaid rollback? It’s waaaay too pat to say “we’ve been through this” when we’re a week out from a floor vote and no one’s actually seen the bill yet. But this is the sort of argument Cruz 2.0 has no choice but to make as part of his new political identity. Cruz 1.0 would have torn it limb from limb.

Skip to 6:00 for the key bit.