Jennifer Rubin describes my ambivalence about the House bill to destroy the Affordable Care Act pretty well. The political consultant in me can see no more optimal result than one in which the bill passes the House with the bare minimum of votes and then dies in the Senate. So, should I root for passage?
To begin with, I see what the House leadership is trying to do. They’re desperate to get this off their plate and put the blame for inaction on the Senate. They’re going to their members and making the following case: “We voted to repeal Obamacare dozens, hundreds of times, and now that we have the chance, we’re going to fail to pass anything? The base will go nuts! The senators are laughing at us. They’re treating us like we’re idiots. And they’re going to shift all the blame on to us. How much better it would be to just send them something, anything, and let them be the ones who fail! Now, here’s what you do. When they accuse you of screwing over people with preexisting conditions, you tell them that you voted against that version of the bill and you only voted yes once we put this amendment in with a few billion for high-risk pools. Tell them this version of the bill protects people with preexisting conditions. Go ahead and add your name as a co-sponsor of the amendment. That way, you don’t have to hear about how we did nothing and you have an answer when you get hit from the other side!”
It’s a pretty compelling argument, and it may carry the day. But, as a political consultant, I still think it’s suicidal. The public isn’t as likely to make fine distinctions as this strategy assumes, so if there is no ultimate repeal and replace, the blame will fall on the president and the party broadly, with few allowances for anyone no matter how they voted on an amendment. In truth, even voting no is a bit of a disaster. Just being a Republican is a disaster in this scenario.
Probably the worst outcome for the GOP would be to actually succeed in kicking tens of millions of people off their health insurance, but failing to do anything at all isn’t a whole lot better for them. And, in the context of failure, voting for something that would have been really unpopular is probably worse than having voted against it.
They’d really like the issue and all their promises to disappear, but the best facsimile of that outcome for the House is to punt the debate to the Senate.
That all makes the case for wanting the House to succeed, since it would create infighting and a huge pile of blame to spread around. But I also have a lot of experience working in the recovery community where the protections for preexisting conditions and the mental health provisions of Obamacare have been hugely beneficial lifesavers for countless people trying to stay sober and for their families who struggle to pay for their treatment. I don’t like to see them yanked around like this and put under so much stress. They don’t know that this is all a Kabuki Theater blame-shifting exercise. They’re worried, and if the bill proceeds they will get more worried.
And, of course, what if I am wrong and the bill doesn’t die in the Senate? I think that’s a very small risk, at least in anything like its current form, but why root for an outcome that creates that risk?
So, part of me just wants them to pull the bill and for this issue to die for good, at least for this year.