The big problem with the Republicans’ new health plan isn’t the secrecy with which it was written. Nor even the ridiculous speed with which they now plan to rush it through the Senate.
The problem is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants are just plum scared.
How else to explain the jacked-up way the party is pretending the health care repeal is really just a budget reconciliation measure, rather than a real live piece of legislation that will strip health insurance from millions of Americans? A budget reconciliation measure requires only a simple majority to pass and can’t be filibustered.
They know that they don’t have the votes to pass such a dog pile of a bill under normal rules.
That is, since they only have 52 Republicans in the Senate, they feel they’d have to bend too far to write a bill that would persuade eight Democrats to vote for it, enough to avoid a filibuster.
What’s wrong with that?
Well nearly everything. But let’s start with the big-picture basics.
The reason the Senate operates differently from the House is because the Founders reasoned there was advantage in having at least one of the chambers of Congress be deliberative. The reason the Senate requires a 60-vote majority to get past a filibuster is because, especially on very large changes to our laws, there used to be a feeling that requiring a majority party to work hard to win over at least some of the other team would ensure that the bill was thoroughly hashed out.
Rep. Michael Burgess talked with The Dallas Morning News editorial board this week. He talked sense about all sorts of things. But when he said that the Senate decision to operate under reconciliation rules had limited the lawmakers’ flexibility when working on the Obamacare repeal bills, I asked him why his party had decided to go that route.
His answer: That’s how Obama and the Democrats operated when they rammed the Affordable Care Act down the Republicans’ throats, and so that’s how the Republicans are going to ram down their replacement bill.
Ain’t Washington great?
Except of course, in this particular case it doesn’t even happen to be true. Not even remotely.
The Democrats pulled a number of legislative tricks toward the end to get their bill past the 60-vote threshold. And it’s true that by the time the final version made it to the floor, there were plenty of lawmakers who hadn’t read the whole bill.
So disgusted were certain members of the minority party that they loudly declared that if ever the political fortunes changed, and they were in the majority, they would run things with far less secrecy.
Actually, by “certain members” I mean McConnell, who promptly forgot about that pledge.
But long before the Democrats were busy pushing their bill through at the end, they had held plenty of open hearings about the bill. Hearings that were open to both parties and the public.
Senate Republicans have, by contrast, held only “listening sessions” open only to Republican lawmakers.
But as I said, it’s the not the secrecy that’s telling here. It’s the craven politics.
Were Democrats hard-pressed to pass their bill all those years ago? You betcha. They spent a year arguing about it, drafting it, and fighting over whether the moderates or the liberals would win. You might remember that liberal Democrats were for a single-payer system, and the moderates believed they’d only get 60 votes if they adopted the centrist market-based approach pioneered by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.
Obama sided with the moderates and that’s what passed.
But notice: The Democrats worked overtime because they needed a bill to pass with 60 votes. Republicans, who were outvoted in the presidential election and who lost seats to Democrats, had a choice. They could have tried to pass a bill that would have peeled off eight Democrats and created something of a bipartisan replacement for Obamacare.
But they didn’t try. Is it because they lacked the votes? Or the guts?
It’s not easy to say. But when they do pass this loser of a bill, if they pass it, they are going to wear it come 2018. They might find that what they hoped would be a life vest is really an anchor tied tight around their shoulders.