McConnell changes tune on healthcare bill, hints at need for Dems’ input; share the pain maneuver?

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The News:

Some political policy wonks believe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is taking a risk by calling for a bipartisan healthcare plan if the Republican-only bill fails. While his comments may encourage conservatives to fall in line with his approach, party moderates may be emboldened to abandon the GOP legislation, according to Bloomberg.

McConnell told a home-state Kentucky audience Thursday that if Republicans can’t “agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur.”

His remarks to a Rotary Club luncheon in Glasgow could serve as a warning to holdout conservative Republicans most ideologically opposed to Obamacare–but also may give wavering moderates cover to oppose the GOP plan, which combines tax cuts and massive reductions in health spending.

Republicans can’t leave the Affordable Care Act untouched, as insurers are pulling out of some areas, but prospects of a dramatic rewrite are dimming under the party’s miniscule 52-48 majority, analysts said. Republican leaders can lose no more than two votes in their party amid united Democratic opposition.

“It’s what you might call bipartisanship at gunpoint,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. “Republicans have to do something. They can’t do nothing. It is clear that McConnell with all of the legerdemain of a veteran magician has not been able to put together 50.”

McConnell was forced to delay action on the measure  the week prior after about half a dozen Republicans objected. He has spent the July 4 recess studying possible revisions that might win support of holdouts once he unveils a new plan as early as the week of July 17. Republican leaders have indicated they want to move on to other issues, including a tax-code overhaul, if they can’t agree on a health bill before a month-long August break.

The conservative group Heritage Action urged Republicans Friday to stick with their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Working with Democrats “will be catastrophic for the party,” which for seven years has pledged “it is the party of repeal,” Michael Needham, Heritage Action’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Needham warned that bipartisan legislation “would embolden Republican moderates as they continue to hold out in attempt to keep as much of Obamacare on the books as possible.”

Steve’s Take:

As we go into the post Fourth of July peak season for tourism and political heartburn in the Nation’s Capital, I’m guessing that the GOP’s Senate bill won’t get to 50 votes. Some of us believe the more important issue isn’t whether it will pass the chamber, but rather whether GOP leaders intentionally fashioned the legislation to crash.

Republicans are learning the hard way that commandeering legislation such as health care isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Clifton Leaf at Fortune notes that, “Generally in politics, when someone attaches your name to something, it’s not in a complimentary way.”

For the first few years at any rate,-—“Obamacare” is one example. Even President Trump, who delights seeing his name on anything, knows that the word “Trumpcare” doesn’t evoke joy in most people.

Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader, knows all this quite well. McConnell is a shrewd political operator and battle-tested survivor. And he’s obviously aware of the polls, which show that many in his own party despise his bill and Speaker Ryan’s House bill preceding it.

As Leaf puts it, “He (McConnell) can see how poorly it looks on national TV to have wheelchair-bound protestors arrested after staging a ‘die-in’ outside your office.”

The last thing he and his GOP brethren on Capitol Hill want is to have to spend the next several election cycles defending legislation that rips health insurance from tens of millions of Americans and raises the premiums for millions more.

So as Stan Colender at Forbes points out, there’s almost certainly going to be plenty of indigestion and headaches from the “mondo legislative agita” that’s ahead, not to mention lots of torn rotator cuffs because of all the arm twisting. Whereas it once felt sublime to “own” the legislative arena, GOP congressional reps are finding it an entirely different–okay, much worse–professional liability to be responsible for the health care of some 325 million Americans.

Bottom Line:

Senate Republicans will return to Washington either to pass legislation that, as Susan Page and Emma Kinery reported in USA Today, is enormously unpopular (just 12% of Americans support the GOP Senate bill), or will fail to do something they have been promising their voters for some seven and a half years they would get done.

And, if the Senate does manage to pass something, it’s not at all certain the House will accept it. That means that Majority Leader McConnell could be increasing the reelection risk for some of his most vulnerable GOP colleagues for legislation that might never be enacted or, if it is, will be exceedingly unpopular and hazardous back home.

Meanwhile, unless the GOP decides to drop its repeal and replace efforts entirely, failing to do something on health care in July will further delay (1) the fiscal 2018 congressional budget resolution, (2) fiscal 2018 appropriations and (3) tax reform. The political fallout from all of this will be worsened because Congress probably will have to take multiple votes on each of these highly contentious issues.

For the Trump administration and Republican majorities in Congress, that means the legislative political pain over the next few months will be both intense and unrelenting.

Just imagine how the circus on the Hill, suffering at the polls and mental anguish over the intractableness of every move they make could have been lessened or avoided entirely with some, what’s it called? Oh yes. Bipartisanship. Remember that? Me neither.

Steve's Take: The chaos over #Trumpcare could have been avoided with #bipartisanship Click To Tweet

The left and right are too far apart to allow the moderates in both parties to put forth a reasoned argument for anything in these frustrating times. And it’s not just the elected officials that are feeling the pain; it’s the electorate–us.

We deserve a whole lot more from these characters. Will this week beget the dawn of a new era of bipartisanship? I’m not betting the ranch on it, but I can still hope. After all, it’s only the health care of us Americans that’s at stake.

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