In the New York Times, reporter Alexander Burns does a nice job of detailing how a bipartisan group of governors, led by Republican John Kasich of Ohio and Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado, teamed up to kill (for now, at least) Mitch McConnell’s effort to pass a health care reform bill that would cripple Medicaid and leave tens of millions of Americans medically uninsured. The most significant thing I learned in reading the piece is that the governors hatched their plot way back in February, long before they had any way of knowing the details of what would be in the House or Senate versions of the bill or how the process would proceed.
Mr. Hickenlooper said in an interview that he and Mr. Kasich had agreed to team up after a February meeting of the governors’ association in Washington, where state leaders heard an alarming presentation about the potential consequences of a federal pullback in health care.
Within weeks, Mr. Hickenlooper said, both Mr. Kasich and Mr. Sandoval had sought his help in taking on their own party. Mr. Kasich, the Colorado governor recalled, expressed confidence that he could find other Republicans who would “take a pretty strong stand that coverage shouldn’t be rolled back.”
A tentative game plan emerged: They would assemble a nimble, informal group of governors, from the right and left of center, who would publicly express concern about health care legislation drafted in the House and Senate. The governors would press for a slower, less disruptive and more public legislative process, and insist on protections for states that had greatly expanded their Medicaid rolls.
Joining Mr. Kasich and Mr. Sandoval on the Republican side was Mr. [Charlie] Baker [of Massachusetts]. On the Democratic side, Mr. Hickenlooper recruited Steve Bullock of Montana, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.
Whatever was in that presentation must have been compelling, and it must have been easy even in February to read that Medicaid would be on the chopping block of any foreseeable bill. Therefore, before anything really happened in Congress, the governors already knew that they’d be able to criticize both the House and Senate versions of the bill, and to criticize the secretive and hasty process.
What’s also interesting is that this bipartisan group of governors is united in thinking that the Democrats ought to be central to any reforms.
John Weaver, Mr. Kasich’s chief political adviser, said Mr. Kasich had spoken recently with other Republican governors, including Mr. Snyder, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who have publicly criticized the Senate proposal. “He has worked it on the phone,” Mr. Weaver said of Mr. Kasich. “There are a number of Republican governors who he spoke to and didn’t want to sign the letter, but came out on our position.”
Mr. Weaver said the group hoped its appeals would put political pressure on the Senate and serve as a model of bipartisan action that Congress could copy in a more protracted negotiation.
Now that Senate Republicans have balked, aides to several of the governors said they hoped lawmakers in both parties would craft a different measure focused principally on stabilizing insurance markets. It is unclear whether the Senate might consider that approach…
…Mr. Kasich, who said he had spoken with [Republican Sen. Rob] Portman [of Ohio], said that Democratic senators should volunteer to cooperate on a negotiated solution, and that Republicans who campaigned on a root-and-branch repeal of the Affordable Care Act should be “big enough” to say they changed their minds.
This is, of course, what should have happened from the outset, but it won’t be possible until the congressional Republicans exhaust every effort to pass a bill without asking for or relying on a single Democratic vote.
Whenever they realize the situation they’re actually in, they’ll also have to figure out how to get President Trump and his hardline advisers to see the light. Every single step they’ve taken so far has been premised on the idea that they will never need a Democratic vote for anything, ever. They have no idea how to pivot off that presumption, nor the faintest clue how they might convince the Democrats to forgive and forget everything they’ve experienced since Election Day.
Still, the exchanges aren’t going to fix themselves. At some point, the Democrats will have to fix them. If they ever get the chance, the governors will be their best allies.