Senate Republicans’ handling of the health insurance issue will go down among the most shameful episodes in the history of the world’s so-called “greatest deliberative body.” In the 85 days since House Republicans passed and handed off the American Health Care Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has turned the Senate into a Marx Brothers movie.
As a result, the best McConnell can hope for is passage of a minimalist “skinny repeal” of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. He’ll then take that bill into conference with House leaders to try to create something that can pass both houses.
Even the skinny bill would be a disaster. A preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office says it would cost 15 million Americans their health insurance over 10 years and raise overall premiums by 20 percent. The ultimate irony is that it would cost the government more to subsidize those whose coverage wasn’t eliminated.
The fruit of nearly three months’ work would be getting back to square one.
To achieve even this, McConnell had to distort Senate rules, treating health care issues as a budget issue so he could avoid the 60-vote requirement historically needed to make law. He kept secret the process that led to what was called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Only 13 GOP senators were let in on the talks. There were no hearings and no amendments allowed. Senate tradition was trampled.
When a draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act was revealed on June 22, it met with immediate opposition, which worsened four days later, when the Congressional Budget Office explained what a disaster it would be. McConnell went back to the drawing board and started handing out favors to mollify complainers.
What emerged was even worse. Two more Republican senators said they wouldn’t vote for it. One amendment would have destroyed health insurance markets. On July 19 Sen. John McCain of Arizona was diagnosed with brain cancer, costing McConnell a “yes” vote.
On Tuesday, McCain came back to make a dramatic speech denouncing the antics in the Senate, saying he would not vote for the bill itself but would cast a key vote to let debate proceed.
Then McCain, in effect, voted for the bill he’d said he wouldn’t vote for. It failed. Then the Senate took up a “clean” repeal-only bill, which also failed. Then McConnell announced his vague “skinny bill” plan, incorporating 20 hours of debate and a “vote-a-rama” series of amendments. A final vote was expected early Friday. Everything was subject to change.
Exhausted? Confused? Frustrated? Welcome to the club.
This whole exercise — to destroy but not fix — a program that millions of Americans count on and most Americans support, is not worthy of the Senate. It is not worthy of America.