With all the Obamacare repeal and replace rhetoric flying around Washington, D.C., lately, we were beginning to lose faith in the Republic. But then Sen. John MCain came back to the Capitol and we found that perhaps all is not lost. There is still true grit and responsible stewardship in America.
McCain, fresh off surgery for a cancerous brain tumor and facing an uncertain future, cast what was the 50th vote to begin debate on the Obamacare repeal and replace bill in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence then broke the tie and debate began.
No other man would likely compromise his health to return to Washington so suddenly. That, along with his years of military and public service, is the “grit” part. The “responsible stewardship” part came after he voted to allow debate. McCain proceeded to methodically lambaste the bill they were voting on and the ridiculous (our words) process that led up to the debate.
As a responsible lawmaker with a track record of telling the public and his colleagues the way it is, McCain declared his opposition to the bill in its current form. “I will not vote for this bill as it is today,” he declared. At least someone in Congress has fortitude.
He had harsh words for his own GOP, who he accused of crafting the bill in a vacuum. He noted: “All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.” On process, he added: “We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition.” He’s right on both fronts. How exactly did the GOP snap defeat from the jaws of victory and dig themselves such a hole on this issue? What happened to the power of ideas winning in public debate as opposed to backroom dealing? President Trump certainly did not take MCain’s admonition to heart: He was on Twitter early Wednesday morning continuing the cloak and dagger and bullying process by denouncing Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is rightfully concerned about impacts on Medicaid in her state.
McCain further prognosticated that the bill was likely to go down and implored his colleagues next to sit down and work together to craft a reasonable compromise. “Let’s trust each other,” he stated. “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” He declared that work in the Senate has become “more partisan, more tribal, more of the time than any other time I remember.” He, too, told his colleagues to “stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths” in various media who seek to forge divisions and are against compromise. ‘To hell with them,” he shouted. Wiser words on the issue could not have been said.
Later in the day Tuesday, the third iteration of the Senate repeal and replace bill (complete with some more spending to ameliorate concerns from moderates and an idea from Ted Cruz to attract conservatives) went down in defeat in greater numbers than even expected – 43-57 with nine GOP defections. The measure would have resulted in up to 22 million people losing coverage over time.
On Wednesday, what amounted to a repeal (in two years) with no replace bill went down in defeat as well on a 45-55 vote. That would have cost 32 million Americans coverage over time. Where to next? Likely the Republicans will seek to pass a small measure that will remove certain aspects of the law that can garner at least 50 votes: the individual mandate, the employer mandate, certain taxes, etc. Then, a House-Senate conference committee would be formed to reconcile the two bills.
Given opposition on the previous amendments to the bill, we wonder if the votes will be there even for a modest Senate bill. Even if they are, it amounts to little to nothing: Obamacare is sick, these minimal changes could further destabilize the system, people will continue to lose coverage in the Exchanges, and no real reform will occur.
As we have stressed as well in the past, it is time to take McCain’s words to heart, reach across the aisle, forge compromise, and do the right thing for America.