No great political acumen or psychology degree is necessary to conclude that President Trump is highly susceptible to flattery. It’s little wonder then that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), desperate to pass GOP health-care reform or at least not be blamed if it fails, keeps talking about what a terrific “closer” Trump is.
On “Fox News Sunday,” he declared, “The president is bringing people to his table and I’m very impressed with how the president is helping us close this bill, and making the improvements that we’ve been making, getting the votes.” A moment later he reiterated, “The reason I feel so good about this is because the president has become a great closer. He’s the one who was helped negotiate changes to this bill with members from all over our caucus.” Do you get the idea that “Trump is a closer” is a talking point?
Someone even lured Trump to come up to the Hill on Tuesday to sell House Republicans one last time — because, you know, he is a closer. That suggests the Republicans don’t already have the votes.
After a frenzy of closed-door meetings, intense lobbying and political posturing, conservative lawmakers threw up their hands Monday and declared: The negotiations surrounding the Republican health care bill are over.
The acknowledgment comes just days out from an expected House vote on the GOP legislation to gut Obamacare, and puts further pressure on undecided conservatives to take an official stance on their party’s landmark proposal.
Conservative senators hoping for changes to the Republican health care bill emerged from a meeting at the White House Monday afternoon disappointed, with Sen. Mike Lee describing the meeting as “terribly frustrating.”
And so long as it remains very likely the bill is dead on arrival in the Senate, House skeptics (both moderate Republicans and Freedom Caucus types) will be wary about taking a controversial, unnecessary vote.
Monday night, as Freedom Caucus members and hard-line conservatives in the Senate suggested negotiations were at an end, Ryan released a grab bag of amendments designed to appease both moderates (with a promise of additional tax credits) and hard-liners (e.g., allowing states to enact work requirements for Medicaid recipients). Conservative health-care guru Avik Roy sounded skeptical:
Word on the street was that the Manager’s Amendment would contain an allocation of $75 billion in additional tax credits that the Senate could use to improve the bill’s treatment of [low-income, near-elderly individuals]. But that $75 billion is nowhere to be found in the legislative text of the Manager’s Amendment.
The Manager’s Amendment reduces the income threshold for the deductibility of medical expenses from 10 percent to 5.8 percent. This, it is said, will provide $75 billion in tax relief to individuals, including near-elderly individuals, with net income tax liabilities. But tax deductions don’t benefit individuals on the low end of the income scale, who don’t have net income tax liabilities and therefore can’t take advantage of a new tax deduction. The problem can only be solved with refundable tax credits.
The Freedom Caucus may no longer remain unified in opposition, but individual members warned they still would not support the bill. With only 21 votes to spare, it remains unclear how many votes are locked down.
If disaster strikes — meaning Ryan must pull the bill to avoid a losing vote — Trump’s reputation as a “closer” will be seriously damaged. That makes one wonder why he gambled his already fleeting credibility by going up to the Hill. Trump, however, cannot resist being the star, and therefore will run the risk he will suffer not just a monumental political setback but a personal rebuke as well.
If Ryan doesn’t have the votes, he’s likely to mask defeat in gauzy language. (We are making terrific progress! I couldn’t be happier with how engaged our members are!) Make no mistake, however: With a date set for the bill, failure to take the vote is a defeat for Ryan and Trump.
Now let’s suppose, for sake of argument, that Ryan and Trump are able to muscle the House into passing the bill. Over in the Senate, the bill likely doesn’t have enough Republican votes (51) to make it through reconciliation. Trump will have only postponed the inevitable and cajoled the House into taking an unpopular vote that does not produce a bill. His agenda will still be stuck. Health-care reform will remain mired in controversy for the foreseeable future.
A cagier speaker would not have set the date without votes in hand. A savvier, less narcissistic president would tell Ryan to close his own bill, leaving room to blame Ryan if things go wrong. A less sycophantic staff would tell the president to keep his distance until the speaker had the votes in hand. Smarter senior advisers wouldn’t have led with health care (recalling President George W. Bush’s losing foray on Social Security in 2005). But now Ryan and Trump are all in, with no guarantee of success.
Ryan and Trump may be spared humiliation on Thursday by squeezing the last few votes out of the House. Even if they do, victory will be brief. They will simply have kicked the can down the road and prolonged the health-care debate, further delaying action on tax reform. Maybe they should have stuck to jobs and the economy in the first year.