THE MORNING PLUM:
Nobody knows whether the House GOP health bill will pass today, or even whether it will get voted on — the vote could get postponed again, even though President Trump has demanded this vote or else he will allow Republicans to languish under the oppression of Obamacare forever (yes, it’s possible this is a bluff). The White House isn’t sure it has the votes. The whip counts show enough opposition to sink it. But a last-minute shift that puts it over the line is definitely possible.
Still, here are a few things we already know: Even if Trump “wins” and the bill passes, this whole process has been an utter disaster from start to finish. The media analysis is already being framed in a way that will obscure this from view. And Trump himself is determined not to learn the right lessons from the whole mess — no matter what happens.
The New York Times reports today that Trump is bracing for a possible loss, and he’s already moving to pin the blame on Paul Ryan if it fails:
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 …
Meanwhile, top Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon is also moving to blame Ryan for a loss, New York Magazine reports, by distancing himself from the bill and blaming Ryan for the fact that it doesn’t drive down costs. And so, if the bill goes down, the story will become whether Trump can shift the blame to Ryan and move on to other things, as Bannon apparently hopes to do. In this telling, the reason the bill failed (or the reason it was so close to tanking, if it prevails) will be that the White House underestimated the difficulty of getting the bill passed, or had too much faith in Ryan’s ability to do so.
But in all of the coverage of the White House’s internal thinking, there is no apparent recognition of why those mistakes were made, and there’s certainly not even a whisper of recognition of Trump’s own failures. The overarching problem here has been that the White House and Republicans never took the policy seriously and had utter contempt for the process.
Trump never made a serious substantive case for why the American Health Care Act is good policy. His arguments for it have been that Obamacare is imploding; that Republican lawmakers will pay a price in 2018 if they don’t pass the bill; and, now, that if they don’t, he’ll leave them stuck with Obamacare forever. But these arguments don’t respond to the actual concerns of the bill’s critics, on either side. Conservatives say it won’t control costs, and even Bannon now privately concedes this is a problem. Moderates don’t want the rollback of the coverage expansion — the GOP bill is less popular than the law, which isn’t actually imploding, despite Trump’s lies — rendering Trump’s suggestion that they’ll pay a price for failure a weak argument. It’s possible this gap can’t be bridged, but the bill’s proponents never won the argument with either side — if the bill prevails, it will be for reasons unrelated to substance.
The White House — and Republicans — also thought they could render the policy specifics and procedural challenges meaningless through sheer force of bluster. They attacked the Congressional Budget Office’s credibility in advance, but that only left them flatfooted and unprepared when the CBO did find that enormous numbers will lose coverage, which ended up weighing heavily on moderates, despite efforts to undercut its findings in advance. They opted for an absurdly compressed time frame, which alienated moderates and even some conservatives.
Indeed, the Times’s reporting confirms that Trump never cared much about the policy or the process:
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.
Yet there is no recognition, anywhere, that this might have been part of the problem all along. Worse, all of this will only be obscured if the bill passes, because the coverage is being framed as an epic gamble in which Trump either emerges as the heroic risk-taking “closer” or an abject failure at “dealmaking.” If he succeeds, the closeness of the vote bolsters the “closer” narrative. If he falls short, the failing was personal.
As Brian Beutler has detailed, much of the coverage throughout has not reckoned sufficiently with the multiple lies Trump and Republicans told to drive this process forward — that the GOP replacement will reduce costs and leave nobody worse off; that Republicans are handling the process more judiciously than Democrats did in passing Obamacare — until the CBO forced the truth out into the open. If Trump “wins,” that failure will be reinforced and enshrined — the White House and GOP contempt for policy details and process will be rendered to an afterthought, and their approach will have only been validated. This telling of the tale does not have to happen, though. It will be by choice.
* THE LATEST WHIP COUNT: The Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller, who has been closely tracking lawmakers’ positions, currently estimates that 15 House conservatives and 12 moderates are definitely against the bill. Meanwhile, another 16 conservatives and 11 moderates could be against it.
If this is right, then the hard nos alone are numerous enough to sink the bill, and more could join them. That would doom the bill, though this could easily change, perhaps dramatically.
* GOP LEADERS CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC: Post reporter Robert Costa tweets:
Confidence about the vote right now from the highest levels of Congress and the administration… whip count fragile but favorable, they say
— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 24, 2017
Of course, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said this morning they aren’t sure whether they have the votes.
* BUT WHITE HOUSE AIDES THINK THEY MAY LOSE: The Times reports that White House aides privately think the bill may go down, even as House conservatives continue to demand more concessions:
Privately, White House officials conceded that competing Republican factions were each demanding changes that could doom the effort, placing the measure in peril and Mr. Trump’s chances of succeeding at a high-stakes legislative deal in jeopardy. With some of its demands in place, the Freedom Caucus ratcheted up its requests, insisting on a repeal of … the prohibition on excluding coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and lifetime coverage caps.
The problem is that, if GOP leaders were to add those latter demands to the bill, it would drive away still more moderates.
* NEW GOP BILL IS WORSE FOR OLDER PEOPLE: Ron Brownstein explains that the new GOP plan’s elimination of the essential benefits package requirements would lead younger people to buy skimpy plans, driving up prices for older, sicker people who want comprehensive coverage:
In its analysis of the original bill, the Congressional Budget Office concluded it would lower premiums for younger and healthier consumers, but substantially raise them for people with greater health needs — particularly older, working-age adults … Repealing the essential health benefits would intensify this cost shifting, which already threatens to impose the greatest harm on those older, working-age adults who are a predominantly white, Republican-leaning constituency.
In other words, the latest changes likely make the bill even worse for Trump-supporting constituencies than it already was.
* HEALTH-CARE MESS REVEALS PAUL RYAN AS CON MAN: Paul Krugman has a withering column that points out the health bill was sold on lies and that this should be pinned directly on Paul Ryan:
It would deprive tens of millions of health insurance … while sharply raising expenses for many of those who remain … In return, we would get … a tax cut, perhaps as much as $1 trillion, for the wealthy. [Ryan] claims that it would lower premiums; it would actually increase them. He claims that it would end the Obamacare death spiral; there isn’t a death spiral, and his plan would be more, not less, vulnerable to a vicious circle of rising premiums and falling enrollment.
As Krugman notes, the fact that Ryan rolls up his sleeves and speaks very earnestly should not distract from what an immense con job this whole affair has been.
* SPOTLIGHT ON DANGERS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS: The Post reports that the administration is mulling a range of new steps that will publicly highlight the dangers supposedly posed by undocumented immigrants. Note this from the Department of Homeland Security:
DHS lawyers also are examining federal privacy laws to determine ways to more freely share potentially incriminating personal information on immigrants among government agencies and release it publicly, including the nationality, immigration status and criminal history of those swept up in enforcement raids.
It’s totally surprising that the administration of the guy who launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers would do something like this.
* JUDGE WHO BLOCKED TRAVEL BAN GETS THREATS: According to CNN, the FBI has confirmed that federal judge Derrick Watson, who issued a temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s immigration ban last week, has been targeted with threatening messages. Law enforcement officials are taking the threats seriously.
* AND THE TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY: Good morning, Mr. President:
The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2017
Looks like Trump is previewing how he’ll wield his fearsome Twitter feed to pummel House Republicans who deny him his glorious victory.