Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) bowed to reality and announced the health-care bill, widely panned in the wake of the Congressional Budget Office scoring, won’t be voted on this week. He says he’ll use time over the recess to gain support for the bill. With ideologically diverse members — from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — opposing even moving forward on the bill, McConnell said he would delay the bill until after the recess. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) certainly played a critical role in simply refusing to be rushed, a very Senate-like defense of good governance. McConnell made the announcement before a meeting this afternoon with the president, who wanted to persuade senators to get on board. (Was McConnell saving the president the embarrassment of failing to sway senators or publicly advertising Trump has no leverage with his members?)
The question is: What would change after the recess? The formulation that the House and Senate embraced — big Medicaid cuts, giant tax cuts for the rich and skimpier support for non-elderly, able-bodied adults — is a loser from both a policy and political standpoint. The CBO report was simply the nail in the coffin, but a batch of senators, to their credit, slowed down the train and then dug in. Unlike House members, they refused to be goaded into taking a rushed vote on an awful piece of legislation.
McConnell can cajole, horse trade and offer backroom deals galore, but the basic formulation set out in the House and Senate bills is destined to fail. Neither the hard-right nor moderates can embrace it. President Trump, it seems, finally brought the GOP (at least in the Senate) together.
These questions remain:
1. Will McConnell ever take a vote, or will tax cuts (the big ones in the IRS code), the budget and the debt ceiling take center stage now?
2. Does McConnell pay a price — or get a hearty round of applause — from members? He didn’t force anyone to vote, and he let the bill hang out there long enough for it to become clear how ill-conceived was the compromise legislation. A leader of a hopelessly divided caucus would try, as we have said, to rip the bandage off as quickly as possible. That’s what he did.
3. Does McConnell make an effort to save the bill by, for example, separating out Medicaid “reform” and leaving that for another day? Or does that merely expose many Republicans’ true intent — cut Medicaid and give the rich tax cuts.
4. If McConnell cannot get the votes for a half-baked “repeal-and-replace” bill, would he take up the offer by Collins to try to fix the exchanges, in essence forging a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans? Could he convince Trump such an effort could be counted as a “win” for the president? (Hey, if Trump can construe the per curium order from the Supreme Court staying only part of the Muslim ban as a “unanimous decision,” anything is possible.)
5. Taking just the exchange side of the equation (not Medicaid, not tax cuts), could McConnell pull out a deregulation bill that frees up insurers to offer all sorts of plans and/or removes the subsidies (a more coherent, “true” repeal), or would there be enough moderates to block such an effort? And would the bill then survive back in the House?
6. Do Republicans get praised or vilified by the Trumpian echo chamber for killing a bad bill?
We’ll have to stay tuned to see how these and other queries get answered.