Telling Democrats to “grow up” delivers the satisfactory response to the insubstantial posturing on the other side of the aisle. Promising that the Senate will “rapidly” replace ObamaCare after repeal provides a more substantive marker for a very difficult question. Mitch McConnell told John Dickerson yesterday that repeal and replace will not drag on for long, but didn’t get much more specific on CBS’ Face the Nation yesterday.
McConnell points out that the ObamaCare system is already in enough of a meltdown that Congress would be taking up a replacement even if Hillary Clinton won the presidency:
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me switch to Obamacare. There’s a question of, you want to repeal it. You’re going to repeal it. What’s the– when’s the replacement part going to get there?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, soon. I mean, you have to both repeal and replace. And I think there– there ought not to be a great gap between the first step and the second. Look– look, you know, Bill Clinton said it’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen. This is Bill Clinton on Obamacare last year. Eight out of ten Americans either want it replaced entirely, or significantly changed. I don’t think anybody ought to think that the status quo’s acceptable. If Hillary Clinton had been elected—
JOHN DICKERSON: Right—
MITCH MCCONNELL: — they’d be revisiting Obamacare. It is in a full-scale meltdown. And so no action is not an option.
True, but if Hillary Clinton won, Senate Democrats would have a lot more incentive to participate in the replacement — and control of the outcome, too. What’s the incentive to cooperate now? It’s true that most Americans want it replaced or fixed, but the split between those two options has been fairly even over the last three years of ObamaCare’s operation.
Agreeing to a replacement — at least at this point — would be an admission of failure of their government-control model, and it’s very difficult to see why Democrats would want to admit that in any context, ever. McConnell can roll all over Chuck Schumer on presidential appointments, but the filibuster is still in place for legislation. It’s possible to repeal ObamaCare through the reconciliation process, but passing a separate replacement would almost certainly need to go through normal order. (Recall that reconciliation worked because the Senate passed a placemarker bill while they had 60 votes in the Senate in 2009-10, before Ted Kennedy’s passing and Scott Brown’s win in his special election.)
McConnell may be counting on the finality of repeal to loosen up Democrats in red states for the possibility of working together on a replacement. Once ObamaCare’s gone, something has to follow it — and Democrats will want to have some influence on that outcome. As long as Republican hands alone carry the onus of ObamaCare’s repeal, those Democrats facing tough elections in 2018 might want to be seen as less obstructionist and more pragmatic — maybe. If not, then replacement might require a Republican supermajority to succeed, which may or may not arrive in two years.
Is that what McConnell means by “rapidly”? Dickerson tries unsuccessfully to pin him down:
JOHN DICKERSON: So can you give me a sense of what rapidly means? Are we talking–
MITCH MCCONNELL: Very quickly.
JOHN DICKERSON: Months? Days?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Quickly.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. But it’s going to be repealed by the end of this week, you think?
MITCH MCCONNELL: The first step will be taken in the Senate by the end of this week, yes. And then it’ll go over to the House.
“Rapidly” is a term of art, clearly, and may depend on how soon Democrats see the 2018 writing on the wall. So far their leadership has yet to fully acknowledge the 2016 writing on the wall, so perhaps we should expect a more glacial context for the word.