It’s time to own it, Republicans: You’ve had seven years to come up with a credible alternative to Obamacare. And when your clutch moment came, you choked.
The House’s first crack at a repeal-and-replace bill was so bad that Speaker Paul Ryan had to yank it or risk a humiliating defeat. The second was slightly less awful, but still sufficiently offensive as to be declared dead-on-arrival in the Senate.
Now, after days of closed-door meetings where the very sharpest minds in Washington met to hammer out an alternative, we get a legless version of the mean-spirited Obamacare repeal bill the House passed.
How bad is it? So bad that liberals and conservatives each found reasons not to like it.
In a statement, the left-leaning advocacy group Families USA called the Senate bill “more harmful and equally heartless” than the House-passed bill.
Meanwhile, four conservative Republicans announced they found it so unpalatable that they couldn’t vote for it either.
The Senate bill rolls back the Medicaid expansion that’s extended coverage to millions of low-income Americans. It makes health insurance more expensive, offering inferior plans with higher deductibles, and spikes Obamacare’s individual mandate. It hands a tax break to the wealthiest Americans, and, just for good measure, it eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
The bill was so bad, in fact, that even President Donald Trump apparently felt like he needed to change the subject to something less politically radioactive: former FBI Director James Comey and the Russia scandal.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that “Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on Healthcare, Tax Cuts, Security. Obstruction doesn’t work!”
By Thursday, any reference at all to healthcare evaporated, and Trump pulled a classic “Don’t look here, look there,” tweeting, among other things, that “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” of any meeting with Comey.
Nonetheless, the White House, which is still in search of its first, major legislative victory, says it’s open to negotiation.
“The president is pleased to see the process moving forward swiftly in Congress, and he looks forward to seeing a finalized bill on his desk,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, according to The Washington Post.” I don’t think we’re as focused on the timeline as we are on the final product.”
Which may be good news, because McConnell has his work cut out for him.
Thanks to some procedural arcana, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needed 50 votes to send the bill back to the House. The Post reported Thursday that McConnell wants to do that before Congress’ July 4 recess, regardless of whether he has the votes or not.
At this writing, it doesn’t look like he does. And, as expected, there are zero Democratic votes.
McConnell’s fellow Kentuckyian, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul; Ted Cruz of Texas; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah, have all said they can’t vote for the bill in its current form.
“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” the four lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Yet Republicans continue to plug away, even as a growing number of Americans, finally realizing that they’ll miss Obamcare if and and when it’s gone, say they oppose the House-authored alternative.
Forty-eight percent of respondents to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday said the House-passed repeal bill was a bad idea. They were more narrowly split in their affection for Obamacare, saying 41-38 percent that it was a good idea.
But Republicans, struggling to make good on a more than half-decade old pledge to dismantle Obama’s signature piece of public policy, are plunging forward nonetheless.
They might finally pass a repeal bill and maybe even send it to Trump. But it will be a terrible replacement.
And it will be all theirs.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.