Groundhog Day, But for Repealing and Replacing Obamacare
I don't want to accuse anyone of insincerity as House Republicans scramble to revive their health care bill, talks which appear to be suspended until after the upcoming congressional recess. I'm sure most of the people involved -- from the White House to the House Freedom Caucus to the group of relatively moderate House conservatives to the Speaker and the rest of the Republican leadership -- would very much like to find a way to get the legislative job done.
It's just that we already know their chances of succeeding are slim indeed, especially given what seems to be on the table and how much it would change in the Senate if it somehow passed. And surely most House Republicans know it, too.
The driving force behind this round of negotiations appears to be the same as it’s been since Republicans took charge of the government: A need to shift the blame elsewhere for utterly failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, their solemn vow to voters for seven years now.
Even the House Freedom Caucus, which is normally proud of its role in stopping imperfect conservative legislation, may be somewhat skittish about taking responsibility for keeping Obamacare in place. So is every other Republican faction. And, yes, that's true even though the bill they considered is profoundly unpopular and aimed at replacing something that is now polling at nearly 50-percent favorability.
It's not just that many House Republicans are still probably more afraid of a primary challenge than of losing to a Democrat in 2018. It's that even Republicans in fairly safe districts could find themselves in general election trouble if Republican activists sit on their hands and Republican voters stay home. Also: politicians really do care about keeping their promises and are aware they will have to provide some explanation in their districts if this pledge is broken. They’d have an easier time if they found a good scapegoat.
The most obvious scapegoat available for most House Republicans remains the Senate. Which means that a bill too draconian to pick up 50 votes in that chamber, or a bill which would need an impossible 60 because of how reconciliation rules work, may not be as big a problem for House Republicans as one might think. As long as they can manage to find the 218 votes to get something, anything, through their chamber, they solve the most immediate problem: ducking blame for the bill's failure.
All of this means that the upcoming recess will prove an interesting one. Yes, Republicans are expecting by now to be hit hard by "indivisible" Democrats organized against Obamacare repeal and the rest of the Republican agenda, and they'll be monitoring whether those efforts are still surging or beginning to slow down. But they're also going to pay attention to whether Republicans in their districts -- the activists and voters they need to get re-elected -- are furious over the House's failure to pass a health-care bill, or whether they've moved on to other issues.
That's going to be a major factor in determining whether we're going to see repeated efforts to find some kind of deal to at least get a bill through the House, or if they'll want to bury the issue for the next two years.
At least, that's how things normally work. There's still the Tweeter-in-Chief, who may or may not have any idea why repeal and replace failed so far (probably not), and may or may not care about helping his party in the House (probably not again). And unfortunately for House Republicans, there doesn't seem to be a thing they can do about that.
They really should have gone with Pretend and Rename when they had the chance.
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