Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A new bipartisanship rises from the health care snafu ... but what will it cost health care?

Getting 51 votes for the Senate version (BCRA) of the House health bill (AHCA) was always a stretch. So-called moderate Republicans thought it mean and cruel. The so-called conservative Republicans wanted nothing less than complete repeal of Obamacare (ACA). Then a handful of moderates rebelled over issues like eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood and cuts to Medicaid. And a handful of conservatives rebelled because the bill did not contain a clean repeal. Then Sen. McCain went into the hospital for surgery, making 51 votes impossible and McConnell delayed the votes. Then two more conservative senators nixed the Senate bill. And then two more moderate senators nixed the repeal-only bill that McConnell (and Trump) were hatching. That effectively left all the House members who voted for their “mean” bill in a precarious position. John Ehrlichman, flashing back to Watergate, could not have connived a better fate for them. To paraphrase slightly: "Well, I think we ought to let them hang there,” Ehrlichman told Dean. “Let them twist slowly, twist slowly in the 2018 wind.” So I gotta ask: Why are these guys laughing?

Why are these guys laughing
Why are these guys laughing?
Senate will get 51 votes to repeal Obamacare
... right?

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains in more detail about why the Collapse of the GOP health plan leaves House Republicans in a bind.

As the Republicans’ health care gambit unraveled last night, I thought about a quote Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) gave to the Washington Post after the far-right House plan passed in May, with his support.

“Is this bill good? No, I don’t like it,” Diaz-Balart said. But he suggested that voting for the bill would allow him to be part of future negotiations: “So my decision was, how do I stay involved?”

As we’ve discussed, even at the time, this seemed more like wishful thinking than a credible legislative strategy.

But the political context matters. House Republican leaders went to Diaz-Balart and members like him with a specific message: let’s just keep the process moving. Vote for the flawed House bill, the argument went, and the Senate will make it better. Lawmakers will have more than one bite at this apple, and voting “no” would derail the entire initiative, years in the making.

The pitch worked, but just barely: 217 House Republicans linked arms and voted for a dreadful piece of health care legislation. Among the 217 were 33 members of the Tuesday Group, made up of “moderate” GOP lawmakers, who succumbed to party pressure, followed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s lead, and toed the party line.

I have more on the Tuesday Group below.

Two months later, what do they have to show for it? After having stuck out their necks to support a regressive health care plan the American mainstream abhors, what’s their reward for their risk?

There isn’t one. On the contrary, they’re now on record having voted for a radical bill that even Donald Trump himself has described as “mean” and “cold-hearted.”

What’s more, far from getting a second bite at the apple, it appears Senate Republicans are poised to pass nothing. These 217 House Republicans, many of whom represent districts that will be competitive in next year’s midterms, will somehow have to defend voting for an ugly bill in exchange for nothing.

The next time Paul Ryan and the House GOP leadership asks these members to cast a tough vote, I wonder how they’ll respond.

Out of the ashes?

Here is something that bears watching. I was not aware of the Tuesday Group until Benen’s post today. Rollcall.com reports that this group of Republican moderates (a label that is open to question) is meeting with a group of Democrats on a range of issues, notably a bi-partisan approach to health care. Here’s the scoop New Democrats, Tuesday Group Meet to Pursue Common Ground. Moderates from both parties look for bipartisan solutions.

The Tuesday Group and New Democrats met on Tuesday, bringing together moderate members of both parties to talk about areas that may be ripe for bipartisanship.

“We talked about budget, we talked about health care, we talked about tax reform – all with the intent of finding ways where there might be common ground,” New Democrats Chairman Jim Himes told Roll Call.

The Connecticut Democrat said this is the second meeting the groups have held together this Congress and that it was coincidentally timed after the GOP’s partisan approach to health has stalled in the Senate. Himes said he was hopeful but not optimistic that failure will lead to bipartisan action on health care.

“Health care is such a freighted religious issue for people that I don’t think a failure on the Senate side leads to next week kumbayas and bipartisan action. I think it’s much more likely on infrastructure, potentially on tax reform. But you got to start somewhere.”

Himes criticized President Donald Trump for trying to label Democrats as obstructionists when Republicans were the ones who decided to take a partisan approach to health care.

“Republicans in Congress set health care up to move through reconciliation,” he said. “That is telling us to go pound sand in advance. That is not a good way to get us on board.”

The Tuesday Group/New Democrats lunch exemplifies how legislation should be produced, Himes said, noting, “Resilient legislation is bipartisan.”

Tuesday Group Co-Chairman Charlie Dent, who wasn’t at the lunch because he was at an appropriations markup, said earlier in the day he didn’t think the Senate’s repeal only, partisan approach was a good approach, and suggested a bipartisan approach was the way to go.

“I think that probably wouldn’t be a very wise strategy here…we’re going to have to fix what’s broken here,” the Pennsylvania Republican said about the repeal only strategy.

Is this new-found bipartisanship good for health care? Or anything else?

The first thing I did was identify Tuesday Group members from published sources, here and here. Then I sorted those members by how they voted on the House’s AHCA bill. Lastly, I sorted those groups on the difference between how frequently they voted in line with Trump positions and how they would be expected to vote given Trump’s election margin in their district. (Data from the FiveThirtyEight project.) Our own representative from CD2, Martha McSally, ranked 4th most discrepant out of the 33 Tuesday Group members who voted “yes” on the AHCA. (Remember that McSally ranks 12th out of the entire group of Republicans in the House on this measure.)

One more thing: the Tuesday Group is not as “moderate” as portrayed by themselves and in the reports cited above. About 2/3 of that group scored a perfect 100% votes in line with Trump in the 538 data.

So to answer my question: this bipartisan group composed of the Tuesday Group and New Democrats should be tracked carefully. What will those groups agree on? What will be surrendered given their voting histories?

I’ll try to work up a similar analysis of the New Democrats in another post on another day.

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