This is not the first time I’ve quoted Hunter S. Thompson this year (or in this column), but he was dead to rights when he said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” This week saw a new high-water mark of professional-level weird in the Senate Republicans’ attempts to repeal Obamacare and replace it was a set of tax cuts, paid for by kicking 14 million people off Medicaid.
(I know, that’s oversimplifying the matter. In truth, the bill would also kick 4 million people off ACA marketplace plans and cut the subsidies that help pay for those plans. Also, Post-Obamacare insurance would suck.)
The first thing that happened was they had to delay a vote to begin consideration of the current healthcare bill because John McCain is absent for medical reasons (speedy recovery, Senator!) and they didn’t have the votes to get going without him there. Next, Sens. Moran and Lee stepped up to say that they won’t vote for the bill even after Sen. McCain comes back, so they won’t ever have enough votes.
Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t about to take that lying down so he announced that he would have them vote for a full repeal of Obamacare with a plan to vote on a replacement… later. After they write one that their own party will actually support.
After McConnell made that pronouncement, Sens. Capito, Murkowski, and Collins said they wouldn’t vote for repeal without a replacement bill, so that’s now dead in the water as well.
In case you’re wondering, every single person I have mentioned so far is a Republican. No Democrats have been involved in the making of this clusterfuck. In fact, I suspect all the Senate Democrats are sitting around Chuck Schumer’s office with popcorn waiting to see what happens next.
As of this writing, McConnell has not indicated that he’s going to back off the repeal-and-go-fuck-yourself vote idea. Pretty much every health care advocacy group I get alerts from is operating under the assumption that Obamacare isn’t out of danger yet. We’ve all being encouraged to keep calling senators and telling them not to screw this up.
GOP effort to simply repeal Obamacare is like a heart surgeon saying "I can't do a transplant, so I'll just remove your heart. Cool?"
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) July 18, 2017
If I had to predict what will finally happen with this, I wouldn't be able to do more than shrug. If I were making strategy for the GOP, I would suggest that the relevant committees start a regular order process of evaluating and revising the current healthcare law with an eye toward a vote in, say, December of 2018. Make a big show of holding hearings, give periodic updates on all the progress they're making, and try to keep it from turning into a wedge issue in the midterms.
Problem is, doing that won’t cut base spending levels in the near term the way taking a meat cleaver to Medicaid will. Rumor is, the GOP really wants that to happen so that the math will be on their side when they attempt tax reform.
I would love nothing more than for Republicans to just walk away from this dumpster fire and let Obamacare continue untouched. When we consider that fall of 2017 will mark only the fourth enrollment period of the marketplaces, you start to realize that the whole program still has training wheels on it and we need more time to see how it will work. Meanwhile, the Medicaid expansion has given millions of people access to care that they didn't have prior to the ACA.
But the GOP has been promising to kill Obamacare since before it was even passed so they won’t back down now. They’ll just keep getting weirder until they pass a bill or lose their majority in Congress.