Just one source, but it makes sense. Do you really think Trump and Bannon want to spend another month repeating this nightmare in the Senate, and then maybe another month after that negotiating with a conference committee?
senior WH aide, asked if decisive health care defeat today is best for Team Trump: "100%"
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) March 24, 2017
An added benefit if the bill goes down would be the leverage it provides the White House to start shoving Paul Ryan towards the exit as Speaker. While at Breitbart, Bannon was allegedly known to refer to Ryan as “the enemy” and hoped to have him deposed by spring 2016. He’s worked with Ryan since the election on health care, and reportedly was a good soldier for Ryan and Trump last night in warning the Freedom Caucus during a meeting that it’s time to suck it up and back the bill. But according to Gabriel Sherman, Bannon is moving behind the scenes to blame Ryan if the bill fails:
Publicly, Bannon has been working to help the bill pass. But privately he’s talked it down in recent days. According to a source close to the White House, Bannon said that he’s unhappy with the Ryan bill because it “doesn’t drive down costs” and was “written by the insurance industry.” While the bill strips away many of Obamacare’s provisions, it does not go as far as Bannon would wish to “deconstruct the administrative state” in the realm of health care. Furthermore, Bannon has been distancing himself from the bill to insulate himself from political fallout of it failing. He’s told people that Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn — a West Wing rival — has run point on it. (Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.)
Bannon’s a populist. The House bill is … not. It makes sense that he wouldn’t like the product. But why, then, would the White House have agreed to support Ryan’s bill in the first place? Why not insist on a more populist bill from the beginning? The policy answer is that they didn’t have the votes for a populist bill: Democrats are unanimous in opposition, meaning that Trump had little choice but to try to placate the conservative Freedom Caucus while hoping that Republican moderates didn’t bail as he did.
There’s a political reason too, though. When push comes to shove, Trump and Bannon just don’t much care what’s in the bill. Their interest lies with infrastructure and tax reform; repealing ObamaCare is something they’re doing because the GOP has been making promises about it for seven years, forcing Trump to address it first thing after his inauguration. The White House’s disinterest in the substance is palpable, though. “The Trump team talks about this country-altering, life-and-death law like it’s a chore they have to rush through so they can go play,” wrote Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star. But don’t take his word for it:
Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.
He said ruefully this week that he should have done tax reform first when it became clear that the quick-hit health care victory he had hoped for was not going to materialize on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the act’s passage, when the legislation was scheduled for a vote…
If Mr. Trump has any advantage in the negotiations, it is his ideological flexibility: He is more interested in a win, or avoiding a loss, than any of the arcane policy specifics of the complicated measure, according to a dozen aides and allies interviewed over the past week who described his mood as impatient and jittery.
I wonder how long it’ll be before Trump starts blaming Ryan publicly if the bill fails. In Ryan’s defense, though, remember that choosing to do health care before tax reform wasn’t a purely political decision to appease the Republican base. There was a procedural logic to it too. Because the GOP has only 52 votes in the Senate, not nearly enough to defeat a Democratic filibuster, they need to use reconciliation to pass both bills. But reconciliation comes with a condition: The laws you pass under it must reduce the deficit long-term. Because the GOP’s tax-reform bill will be heavy on tax cuts, odds are it’ll end up increasing the deficit. Solution: Pass a health-care bill first that reduces the deficit greatly, providing a “cushion” of sorts for the tax-reform bill to come if in fact it ends up increasing the deficit. Even that plan has run into problems, though, as the GOP’s health-care fiasco has unfolded. The original version of the health-care bill reduced the deficit by $337 billion over 10 years, but the newly amended version reduces it by just $151 billion. The logic of doing health care first is disintegrating as the bill keeps getting revised. And if the bill today fails, Trump’s plan to move on to tax reform will run smack up against the deficit-reduction requirements of reconciliation.
Anyway. The Freedom Caucus might grant Trump’s wish today:
Freedom Caucus source to me just now: "Think they want it to fail on the floor to make a point."
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 24, 2017
It’ll be interesting to see how moderate Republicans play this vote. I’m sure many would like to vote no on a bill that’s polling at 17/56, but they might refrain if it means bearing the brunt of the blame from Trump and his supporters for killing the bill. How they vote, then, may depend on how the Freedom Caucus votes. Even if there are 23+ moderates who want the bill to fail, they may suck it up and vote yes if the FC lines up behind Trump at the last moment and votes yes as well. If, on the other hand, the Freedom Caucus holds out to the bitter end and provides, say, 20 no votes, placing the bill in dire jeopardy, then you may see moderate Republicans vote no en masse. The Freedom Caucus is going to take the fall for this in the media (and likely from Trump himself) if they oppose the bill in any significant numbers. So long as they’re being blamed, moderates can vote no too with little fear of repercussions.
Here’s Trump making a last-minute check-the-box pitch for the bill on Instagram. He told reporters this morning that he thinks Ryan should stay on as Speaker even if the bill fails. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Update: Yep. Here we go:
Behind the scenes, the president’s aides are planning to blame Ryan if there is an embarrassing defeat on a bill that has been a Republican goal for more than seven years, a senior administration official said…
“I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax and a long-time friend of Trump’s, said in an interview last week. “The President had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.”
Ryan’s pal Reince Priebus may also be in the crosshairs, per Bloomberg. Sounds like the populists in the White House are seizing failure as an opportunity to clear out some rivals.