The AHCA Ball is in McConnell’s Court

Alan Zendell, July 11, 2017

If it wasn’t certain before, today’s revelations about Donald Trump Jr sealed the deal for the President’s leverage with Congress. The cloud of uncertainty hanging over the administration’s role in Russian meddling with our election means there will be no arm-twisting by Trump Sr when the Republican senators try to pass a health care bill.

The ball is entirely in Mitch McConnell’s court. It’s clear that the seventy-four-year-old Majority Leader desperately wants to pad his legacy with a win on health care, especially if it tarnishes the legacy of Barrack Obama. What is less certain is the lengths to which he’s willing to go to achieve it.

Despite the obvious partisan rancor in most of his public pronouncements, many observers doubt his commitment to passing a wholly Republican bill, if it means ultimately having to admit defeat when his party faces the voters in the 2018 election. He has hinted, recently, that if his own party can’t get its act together he might have to reach out to Democrats to get the job done. Was that a credible threat?

One indication of how things might go may be gleaned from the Conservative Review’s Liberty Scorecard, which rates every member of the House and Senate with letter and number grades  meant to tell conservative voters how well they can trust the incumbents to vote the Right way. McConnell is certainly not The CR’s poster child. They rate him an F, though it’s a relatively high F with a score of 42. To put that in perspective his fellow senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul gets an A with a score of 92.

Of the fifty-two Republican senators, fifteen have Liberty Scores of 70 or higher (John Kennedy, LA; Mike Lee, UT; Ted Cruz, TX; Benjamin Sasse, NE; Rand Paul, KY; Tim Scott, SC; Tom Cotton, AR; Jim Risch, ID; Marco Rubio, FL; Steve Daines, MT; Michael Crapo, ID; David Perdue, GA; Charles Grassley, IA; Jim Imhofe, OK; and Richard Shelby, AL). Since the attempt to make the bill the President called mean more acceptable, four of the senators on that list oppose it.

Fourteen Republican senators have Liberty Scores of 40 or less (Susan Collins, ME; Lamar Alexander, TN; Lisa Murkowski, AK; Thad Cochran, MS; Roger Wicker, MS; Orrin Hatch, UT; Johnny Isakson, GA; Mike Rounds, SD; Shelley Capito, WY; Lindsey Graham, SC; John McCain, AZ; Thom Tillis, NC; John Cornyn, TX; and Richard Burr, NC). Of that group, three oppose the present bill.

Thus, seven of the fourteen senators who have expressed opposition aren’t in either group, so as partisan as all this has appeared, it’s clear that Republican views on health care are not aligned solely on ideology. The voters are making their wishes known and senators of all stripes are listening. They all want to be re-elected.

McConnell attempted to get a bill crafted in secret behind closed doors, and to his credit, the Senate was far less leaky than the White House. But despite his best efforts, it appears that Democracy may be alive and well. They tried to pass a bill that would further enrich the wealthiest Americans at the expense of so many families that when the smoke and mirrors cleared, the public’s response was immediate. Women, even many who voted for Trump realized they were getting screwed, and hard-working people who lost their health coverage when their jobs disappeared realized that Congress wasn’t doing anything to assure that they would have either again, any time soon.

We learned that opposition to the AHCA wasn’t some liberal media conspiracy. Eighty percent of Americans don’t want it, and McConnell knows, if he didn’t before, that selfish agendas like the Koch Brothers’ can’t stand the light of day any better than vampires. Perhaps that’s not a bad allusion.

The protesters aren’t going anywhere, and McConnell knows that, too. It’s difficult to imagine how he’s going to satisfy them and garner enough votes in his own caucus for passage. Horse trading only works when there’s something to trade, and he has nothing to offer reluctant senators that will offset putting their seats at risk.

Given all that, I’m not sure the Majority Leader would see reaching across the aisle as a defeat. If he’s as savvy a politician as people say, he knows the most memorable legacies are earned by forging bipartisan successes no one thought possible. And he can do so without fear of opposition from Trump. If the president has demonstrated anything it’s that, lacking strong principles of his own, he’ll sway whichever way the wind is blowing. If McConnell gets a bill passed that satisfies most Americans, Trump will not only sign it, he’ll tweet about how it was a great victory for him.

But who cares about that? Trump makes himself more irrelevant every day. What’s important is making sure Americans have access to health care, and whether the final bill looks more like Obamacare 2 or something the Republicans can claim they created, it really doesn’t matter.

Obamacare is a flawed law, but it changed the way Americans viewed health care. It was a watershed accomplishment that set the stage for the future. If requiring amendment were the sole criterion for evaluating a new law, every major bill passed in recent memory would fail the test. Virtually every Congress proposes tweaking the Social Security Act, but no one ever suggests repealing it.

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