Early Returns

A Congress That Can't Make Anything Easy

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Well, he's gonna try.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Time for another test of whether this Congress can do the easy things -- on health care this time.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington have reached a deal to "fix" the Affordable Care Act -- a seemingly reasonable agreement designed, in very general terms, to help the insurance markets work better while giving states more flexibility to administer things. 

Both parties have incentives to approve something like this. Democrats care about preserving their big policy win in the original Affordable Care Act; Republicans don't want chaos in health insurance while they control the White House and have majorities in both chambers of Congress. Sure, Republicans in theory would rather repeal and replace Obamacare, but if they didn't realize earlier that they don't actually have any realistic plan for doing so, most of them surely know it now. 

And yet we have no idea whether this thing can get through Congress, and what Donald Trump would do if he had to sign it is anyone's guess -- he's gone back and forth on the concept of a deal a number of times already. 

The Alexander-Murray compromise almost certainly has majorities in both chambers -- if it actually gets to that point. What matters more, however, is whether majorities of Republicans in both chambers want it to pass -- whether they want to supply their votes or not. If most House and Senate Republicans want it to pass, then it's simply a question of how to package it best -- alone, perhaps, but more likely with some other, more popular (among Republicans) legislation. If not? Then it probably goes nowhere.

Consider this a good test run for December, when similar conditions may apply to bills funding the government through the remainder of the fiscal year and raising the debt limit -- bills Republicans certainly should want to pass, but which radical Republicans who disdain compromise may want to oppose. And bills in which the "hope yes, vote no" crowd -- Republicans who want bills to pass without their own support -- complicate things for Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, neither of whom has a long record of legislative accomplishments. 

All of which is made even worse by a president who few if any Hill Republicans trust. 

And remember: These are the easy things. 

1. Andrew Rudalevige at the Monkey Cage on Trump and executive orders.

2. Also at the Monkey Cage, Jane Vaynman on the possible effects of the administration's move on Iran

3. Seth Masket on the worst idea in American politics: a constitutional convention called by state governments. 

4. Dave Karpf on how Trump fundraisers were successful in 2016. 

5. "The problem with that case is that it assumes a strongly positive effect of tax cuts on economic growth that does not appear to exist": That's Ramesh Ponnuru writing at National Review. 

6. Josh Kraushaar on why Steve Bannon is overrated as a threat to incumbent Republican senators. 

7. Oliver Roeder at FiveThirtyEight on math and the Supreme Court. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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