The Congressional Budget Office scoring sealed the deal, perhaps, but Collins didn’t need the CBO to predict that a bill taking $800 billion or so out of Medicaid was going to wallop her state. She became the third official no vote — the others are Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). Heller, like Collins, can see what the Senate bill would do to his state (which, unlike Maine, did expand Medicaid and therefore has a lot more to lose). Paul sincerely believes that the federal government shouldn’t be regulating or subsidizing health care for able-bodied, non-elderly Americans. Then, later Monday night, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told CNN’s Dana Bash that he would vote against a motion to proceed. Others who say they need more data — Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), to name two — may be more explicit about voting no on a motion to proceed.
Normally, when senators say that they “don’t have enough information,” the political world interprets that as equivalent to ” I am undecided.” But remember — the key vote that could stop the bill even before a vote on the merits would be the “motion to proceed.” Saying that they do not have enough information to vote to proceed puts other senators right where Collins is: “No” on a motion to proceed.
To be certain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is forcing this result by his insistence on voting on the bill later this week. His hurry-up-and-vote gambit was designed to stop opposition from gathering and to maximize pressure on his members to fall into line. But — and here is where one suspects McConnell never does anything to hurt his members — the artificial deadline also gives members who cannot vote for the bill on the merits an easy way out. They simply say, “That McConnell wouldn’t give us enough time. Darn!” Some voters will see this as nothing more than a no vote on the Senate bill (for better or worse); others will give their senator a break for refusing to be rushed into a ill-considered debate. And if McConnell after the July 4 recess decides to move on to other things, senators may never get around to a health-care vote.
Even President Trump sounded as though he might be looking for a way out. On Monday, he tweeted, “Republican Senators are working very hard to get there, with no help from the Democrats. Not easy! Perhaps just let OCare crash & burn!” That suggests he would give Republicans an alternative to passing the bill (let Obamacare “crash and burn”) and be amenable to blaming Democrats, who of course have no ability to stop Republicans if the latter even had 50 votes (plus the tiebreaker from the vice president).
Perhaps McConnell does force a vote. Maybe all the tough-talking senators in the end crumble. But if so, they have left a trail of embarrassing and self-incriminating statements a mile long, which future opponents will use against them. Candidly, they sure are acting as though they want to get out of this and go home. If they do, critics of Trumpcare will owe Collins a huge debt of gratitude.