Before the House narrowly voted to pass the American Health Care Act, you could tell that Republicans supporting it would be in for a tough time. The first clue came from Republicans themselves.
Most vividly in their mini-statements during the floor debate, in interviews they gave and in statements they released, House Republicans almost to a person refused to tout the AHCA as a good bill, an improvement over Obamacare. Obamacare is failing. We promised the American people we’d do this. There was plenty of hyperbole. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wis., proclaimed: “That is not a choice. This is a crisis.” He seemed to be arguing that there was no other solution or legislation that could possibly be devised that would respond to Obamacare’s difficulties. The Republican who used to be considered an impressive wonk was, in essence, imploring members not to rationally think through the legislation they were about to pass. No Congressional Budget Office score, no real debate, no reflection on the bill’s merits.
The resort to out-and-out lies (e.g. insisting that everyone with a preexisting condition would be protected) and insistence that something had to be done underscored how indefensible was the bill on its merits. Politico reported:
“Rep. Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican, called it a ‘green flag’ and a ‘start.’
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“Rep. Tom Cole (Republican of Okla.) also pushed the idea that Republicans just need to pull the trigger on this bill because it will change. ‘This thing is going to go to the United States Senate. It’s going to change in my view,’ he said on NPR. ‘At some point you just have to move, and we think this is it. This will create some momentum.’ …
“Leadership aides have described the legislation more in practical terms — let’s get it done — than wow, this is good. White House officials have argued to lawmakers that the bill will look totally different in the Senate and they just need political momentum. ‘Everyone knows this won’t be the final product,’ one senior administration official said. ‘So if you don’t like something, it’s fine.’”
This was an act of gross recklessness — betting that the Senate would save House Republicans from themselves — and cynicism. It is hard to recall another piece of legislation of this magnitude in which there was effectively no argument that, if passed, it would improve the lives of Americans.
The second sign that the House Republicans had entirely missed the mark came from Senate Republicans, who treated the House product with disdain, refusing even to consider it seriously. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of S.C., tweeted, “I appreciate the apparent progress on health care reform in the House of Representatives. I will admit, I’m concerned with the process.” He continued, “A bill — finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate — should be viewed with caution.”
In a written statement, Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said the bill raised more questions than it answered. “In order to answer these questions and others, we really need the Congressional Budget Office to assess the impact of the bill on coverage, costs and premiums. That has not yet been completed,” she admonished Republicans. “This is an extremely important debate with significant implications for millions of Americans. We need to spend the time necessary to get this right and work to achieve the goal of expanding access to health care that is truly affordable and accessible.”
The House bill is so flawed and insufficient that the Senate has already set to work drafting something entirely different. The Washington Examiner reported that a 12-person working group is developing a Senate proposal:
“‘We are going to draft a Senate bill,’ added Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa. ‘That is what I’ve been told.’
“The working group has been meeting for weeks, said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, a member of the group.
“‘What we have to do is build a consensus among our conference and that is what the working group is designed to do,’ Cornyn said. ‘To get to a compromise we can agree to and then present it to the larger conference.’ “
One has to ask why a GOP House majority is necessary if its answer to the most important legislative goal is: The Senate will do it.