No one among Senate Republicans has exactly been optimistic about the chances for the ObamaCare repeal effort, but Richard Burr has assumed the role of Captain Buzzkill. Burr told a North Carolina news station yesterday that the House’s effort was “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and that the Senate’s effort is all but certain to stall in 2017. And that may have some significant impact on the GOP’s entire legislative agenda:
“It’s unlikely that we will get a healthcare deal,” Burr said on WXII 12 News, a local TV station in his home state.
He called the bill passed in the House, the American Health Care Act, “dead on arrival” in the Senate. A Congressional Budget Office projection of the legislation showed that 23 million more people would be uninsured in a decade if the bill were to become law. Centrist members of the Senate have said they are concerned about these outcomes, and a working group has been writing a separate bill during the Memorial Day recess.
The Wall Street Journal notes the precarious situation in the Senate for health-care reform:
The unusually blunt assessment puts a fine point on the difficult path ahead in the Senate, where Republicans control 52 seats and need at least 50 Republicans, plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, in order to pass their own health plan. At least three conservative Republicans are opposed to the health plan priorities of at least three moderate Republicans, making the pathway for passing a bill very tricky. “I don’t know how we get to 50 at the moment,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told Reuters last week.
This puts the Republicans in quite a catch-22. If they don’t pass an ObamaCare repeal in this session, voters will punish them at the polls in 2018. If they do pass a repeal that turns out to be problematic and unpopular, voters will punish them at the polls in 2018. If they wait until 2018 to pass anything, even a good repeal-and-replace bill, too many of their members will become gun-shy leading up to the elections. Had they waited until after 2018 to tackle this, they might have had enough Senate votes to get a straight repeal — but could have lost the House for reneging on their repeal pledge.
Burr’s anxiety and the lack of cohesion on health-care reform among Republicans on Capitol Hill are the real problems, and not the filibuster, as Trump argued in earlier in the week. I noted this in my column at The Fiscal Times this week:
The real problem for Trump and backers of the AHCA isn’t a requirement to get to 60 votes to defeat a cloture vote. It’s getting to 51 votes. Last week, McConnell told Reuters that he’s unsure whether he can corral a majority for the AHCA, no matter what form it eventually takes in the Senate, even if the parliamentarian approves the reconciliation process. “I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that’s the goal,” McConnell observed. “And exactly what the composition of that (bill) is I’m not going to speculate about because it serves no purpose.”
In principle, at least, it’s worth speculating a little. Democrats rammed through a massive bill that imposed a mandate on all Americans without any partnership with Republicans by manipulating Senate rules, and the result has been a disaster which they completely own. Had they worked more closely with Republicans, there would have been an investment on both sides of the aisle in a different form of health-insurance restructuring, even if it didn’t fulfill all Democratic wishes. They paid a huge price for majoritarian triumphalism with Obamacare and then paid another big price in getting cut out of the confirmation process in the first Republican administration in single-party governance.
In this case, eliminating the filibuster is a solution in search of a real problem. When Republicans can get to 59 but not 60 and can’t qualify legislation under reconciliation, then rule changes might be a last-ditch option worth considering. As it is, however, Trump’s demand is a non-sequitur. Democrats provided a very valuable lesson in how triumphalist impulses can quickly backfire, even when there may be a rationale for changing the rules. Republicans need to consider those lessons, especially given the utter uselessness of the suggestion in the present environment.
In the moment, however, the GOP has a more acute conundrum to resolve. Their economic agenda of tax reforms and budget priorities depends on passing ObamaCare repeal, in order to get the pay-fors necessary to pass those bills. If ObamaCare repeal fails this year, then tax reform has to take a much more modest form to pass under reconciliation, which will throw off Donald Trump’s entire economic agenda. In short, Republicans on Capitol Hill have to choose between potential disasters; at this point, no safe haven exists.
John Cornyn apparently grasps that better than most:
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn predicted on Wednesday that congressional Republicans would soon repeal and replace President Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul, despite skepticism from some of his colleagues that it will happen at all.
When asked on the Lubbock-based radio station KFYO about whether a health care overhaul bill would be sent to President Trump’s desk before the August recess, Cornyn said, “Oh, absolutely. We’ll get it done by the end of July at the latest.”
They’d better, or their agenda will grind to a halt.