Imagine. We’ll be able to watch the Trump presidency succeed or implode in real time on C-SPAN!
senior House aide tells me leadership intends to hold AHCA floor vote tomorrow even if bill lacks votes needed to pass
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) March 22, 2017
Do they have the votes? According to the Freedom Caucus they … do not:
BREAKING: more than 25 Freedom Caucus 'No's' on AHCA — group says "start over"
— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) March 22, 2017
An NBC whip count of the Freedom Caucus last night tallied 27 no’s, although that includes a few leaners — and one of those leaners, Lou Barletta, has already flipped to yes today after Trump agreed to add a provision to the bill denying health-care tax credits to illegal immigrants. Ryan can afford only 22 defections, assuming all Democrats vote no. Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus that’s supplying most of the no votes right now, met with Mike Pence this morning and reportedly demanded that something be added to the bill to repeal ObamaCare’s regulations. Can’t do it, Pence replied. Senate Republicans appear convinced that the reconciliation process, which is designed to deal strictly with budgetary matters, can’t be used to repeal non-budgetary provisions like regulations; that’s why Ryan and Trump have been talking up a “three stage” process to repeal — first the House bill passes, then Tom Price uses his HHS authority to lift O-Care regulations, and then a second bill will be introduced to allow insurers to sell plans across state lines. Meadows wants stages one and two combined, apparently, but they can’t be as a matter of pure procedure. (Can they?)
Key question, then: Why would Ryan put a bill on the floor without knowing for a fact that he has the votes to pass it? Normally when the House leadership can’t line up a majority for a bill beforehand, they yank it rather than make a public spectacle of it being voted down live on cable TV. Imagine the humiliation to him and Trump if they dare Meadows and the Freedom Caucus to kill the bill — and then they do it. (Which, thanks to Trump’s sliding approval rating, is a bit more likely than it was a few weeks ago.) What Ryan’s counting on, I think, is that House conservatives simply won’t have the balls at the decisive moment to cast a vote that amounts to keeping ObamaCare in place by killing the GOP’s proposed replacement. Too much rhetoric about getting rid of O-Care has been spent over the past seven years for the Freedom Caucus to choke on their best, and maybe last, chance to do that. Besides, House and Senate staffers have been whispering to reporters for weeks about their preference for a gut-check “ObamaCare or TrumpCare?” vote in Congress. They gave up long ago on the idea that the party can craft a bill that attracts a true consensus among conservatives and center-right moderates; the only way they’re going to get something through at this point is to dare the bill’s critics to disappoint the Republican base (sort of?) and embarrass Trump by voting it down. That is to say, Ryan really might force this cliffhanger vote tomorrow, with the outcome fully in doubt. It’s rare that we get genuine suspense in a House roll call, especially on a bill this momentous, but we’re on track as of 2:30 ET today.
Remember, even if it passes the House, it’ll start with a maximum of 48 votes in the Senate and no obvious way of bridging the divide between conservatives and Republican centrists. True to form, via the Shark Tank, here’s Marco Rubio being asked this morning whether he’ll vote no — and ducking on grounds that the bill is still changing.