Melinda Henneberger

Pat Roberts, Nancy Pelosi and passing a health care bill to find out what’s in it

When Sen. Pat Roberts says, “We need to move,” on health care legislation, which direction is he talking about taking us?
When Sen. Pat Roberts says, “We need to move,” on health care legislation, which direction is he talking about taking us? The Kansas City Star

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has been lavished with attention lately. Which is what happens when you buck your party to save Obamacare one day and the very next time the sun comes up, announce that you support a doomed GOP plan to kill the Affordable Care Act and replace it with nothing but hearty best wishes for all Americans. If Moran now sticks with his party after all and green-lights legislation he has said would hurt his constituents, he’s going to wish he hadn’t distinguished himself in the first place.

But in case that other Republican Kansan in the Senate is, despite his protestations, feeling unattended right now — “You can create headlines,” Pat Roberts said in Moran’s direction. “I’m not interested in the headlines” — well, step right out here into the light, sir.

In a highly informative interview with The Associated Press, Roberts allowed that he is not completely enthusiastic about his party’s health care bill. (And how could he be, since it’s not clear what will be in it?) Nevertheless, here’s Roberts’ bottom line: “We need to move.” Do something — anything, really. Say yes, then figure out what we’ve said yes to: “The whole point is to get where we want to get, we have to get on the bill.” But where is it you want to get, other than someplace else?

If you think Roberts sounds like Nancy Pelosi when she let loose in 2010 with the endlessly pilloried “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it,” you’re not wrong. Even now, Senate Republicans haven’t been told which of a half-dozen versions of health care havoc they’re going to be pressured to pass this week. Their plan is to take a procedural vote that if it passed would be preliminary in about the same way that a Republican primary is in almost all-red Wallace County in western Kansas, where Donald Trump took 90 percent of the vote in November.

It’s not at all clear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will find the 50 votes he needs. But if he does, members will offer a slew of amendments to the latest version, and then McConnell will be free to ignore the result and sub in whatever compromise he thinks he can push through. With no public hearings, no scoring from the Congressional Budget Office and in all likelihood the same low public approval rating.

Congressional Republicans have to keep their promise to undo “the horrible disaster known as Obamacare,” President Donald Trump warned Monday. But nothing they’ve kicked around so far would do anything to “deliver truly great health care.” Or to address the cost of health care itself. All the versions they’ve discussed would, however, lower insurance premiums, after an initial spike by increasing deductibles and cutting back on what’s covered, as well as on the number who’d have coverage.

All versions except the outright repeal include deep cuts to Medicaid that have nothing to do with Obamacare and that Candidate Trump swore he’d never support. These cuts aren’t being debated honestly, either. Driving across Roberts’ home state last week, I heard a radio commercial on a “Focus on the Family” broadcast about the terrible threat that Medicaid poses to the Medicaid recipients it supposedly discourages from working and hurts emotionally, physically and morally. None of which has any basis in fact, with all but 13 percent of adult recipients who aren’t elderly or disabled already working, in school or looking for work.

Now Roberts is arguing that it’s too late to start over on health care legislation, as Moran has suggested. “My God,” he said, “that would take months.”

Maybe so, but at this point, any option that would be quick would also be as ugly as the image Roberts evoked when he was asked last month about the chance that GOP moderates and conservatives could ever reach a health care compromise: “Even porcupines make love,” Roberts said. “Once in Glacier National Park, I saw two porcupines making love. I’m assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They produced something.”

After seven years of big talk, Senator, don’t let that be the best that can be said of your party’s efforts.