After six weeks of heavy wrangling, and by the slimmest of margins (2 votes), Speaker Paul Ryan and his confederates in the House of Representatives managed to ram through a piece of legislation that they proudly refer to as the American Healthcare Act (AHCA). What they really mean is the long-promised repeal of Obamacare. They accomplished this feat of political legerdemain by not waiting for an analysis from the independent Congressional Budget Office and through outright lies.
Who knows what back room deals were cut, which members were cajoled or threatened by the House leadership and the Trump administration? Were those members who were leaning “No” told if they didn’t support this bill then they would get no funding from the Republican Party when they ran for re-election in 2018? Were others promised that they shouldn’t worry about supporting the provisions of this horrible piece of legislation because it would all get fixed in the Senate?
The party celebrating this so-called “win” in the Rose Garden of the White House was not only ridiculous, but highly premature. Donald Trump, of course, is thrilled. This is the first victory, beside the Gorsuch appointment, he has achieved in his administration. Perhaps the only good thing that might come from this will be that Trump will stop boasting about his Electoral College victory now that he can put something new in his “win” column.
No doubt many Trump supporters are feeling vindicated right now. After all, haven’t the Republicans been promising to repeal and replace ObamaCare for seven years now. If they think they have accomplished this feat, then they need a lesson in Civics 101.
The bill passed by the House, H.R. 1628, now has to go to the Senate for approval before the President can sign it into law. And the politics in the Senate are vastly different from those in the House. Unlike the House of Representatives, where every member faces re-election in 2018, only one-third of the Senate will be on the ballot for the mid-term election. There are 34 seats up for re-election in 2018 and 25 are currently held by Democrats.
That means only nine of the 52 current Republican Senators have to worry about the mid-terms. Only nine can be threatened by the Senate leadership, and those nine are going to be really concerned about how their home state voters look upon this “healthcare reform” bill.
By the time the AHCA act comes to the floor of the Senate for a vote, the CBO rating on the cost of the bill will be available. Don’t expect it to be favorable. Even before the House took its vote today, GOP Senators such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were issuing the following warnings:
This is not to say that the Republicans in the Senate, with a 2 vote majority, and a sitting Vice President who can cast the deciding vote in case of a tie, will not pass healthcare reform legislation. Just don’t expect it to look like what the House passed earlier today. The Senate can afford to be more cautious and deliberative. As a matter of fact, that is how the Founding Fathers envisioned it to be.
Two-thirds of the Senators do not have to worry about facing voters in 2018. It is to be hoped that they will hold public hearings on the bill. It is to be hoped that they will actually read the provisions in H.R. 1628, including the controversial MacArthur amendment, before they vote on it. The Republicans will still be pressured from both their leadership and the White House to change as little as possible in the House bill.
But time is on their side. As more and more details of the hastily passed House bill become public knowledge, all the members of the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, will be feeling the heat from their constituents. A significantly bad score from the CBO could prove fatal to its chances of passage in anything like its current form.
Another lesson in Civics 101 – if there are changes or amendments to the House bill passed by the Senate, then a joint conference committee must meet to resolve these differences. The bill, in its new form, then goes BACK to the House to be voted on again, and if passed in its new form, back to the Senate for a final vote. Only when it is approved then can it go to the President for his signature.
Yes, this is a slow and messy process. As Otto von Bismarck once said “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.” But that is not necessarily a bad thing for the American people. Laws that affect the everyday lives of all us should not be made in haste or in the dark. And certainly laws that affect the healthcare of millions of Americans fall into that category.
Well, everyone except for Members of Congress and their staff. Yes, they snuck that little provision in again, as they have done so many times in the past, on piddly little pieces of legislation like EEOC and OSHA. Betcha didn’t know that.
Now is the time to remind your Senators and your Representatives that they work for YOU, not the other way around. Inform yourself of the provisions of this legislation. Pressure your Senators to support what you like and oppose what you don’t.
There is nothing more discomforting to the sense of well being for a member of Congress than an informed and engaged constituency.