July 18, 2017
It wasn't the announcement Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had hoped to make. After weeks of grueling back and forth, the Senate's top Republican admitted yesterday that the wheels had finally come off the gurney of the GOP's latest health care plan. With the loss of Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), even McConnell can't see a path forward for his Better Care Reconciliation Act. "Regretfully," McConnell told reporters, "it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful."
But just because Republicans can't agree on a replacement plan within the narrow confines of reconciliation doesn't mean the effort has failed. In fact, the bad news for H.R. 1628 may be the best news for voters! For once, Republicans are willing to return to what worked: the 2015 Obamacare repeal. Instead of bickering over the nuts and bolts of a limited replacement plan, McConnell has finally come around to the idea that groups like FRC have supported all along. It's time to put their feet on the trail they blazed in 2015 and pass the same budget reconciliation bill Congress put on President Obama's desk. The whole point of that exercise was to prove it could be done. The only thing that's changed since 2015 is that they finally have a president who will sign it!
Senators like Ben Sasse (R-Nebr.) have been quietly pushing this idea since last month, when it was obvious that consensus was not developing over the plan to replace Obamacare. President Trump was on board then, and based on his tweets, he's on board now. "Republicans should just 'REPEAL' failing Obamacare now & work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!" Sen. McConnell, who was already inclined to go with a repeal only but was trying to build consensus in narrow majority, optimistically pointed out, "a majority of the Senate has already supported [repeal only] in 2015." And not just a majority, but a supermajority of his party. Every Republican but three voted for the measure two years ago. And lately, that kind of consensus has been hard to come by.
For FRC, the biggest concern we had with H.R. 1628 (apart from basic cost-effectiveness) was whether the pro-life protections would survive under reconciliation rules. There is no guessing with the 2015 repeal language. Two years ago, during the test drive for this repeal, the portion of the legislation that gutted the majority of Planned Parenthood's funding had the green light from the Senate parliamentarian -- setting Congress up for the greatest pro-life victory in modern history.
As President Trump told members privately, "If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, and they can't pass this health care bill, they are going to look weak. How can we not do this after promising it for years?" How indeed. As House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has said, "To suggest that we can pass it in 2015 and that it's more difficult to do it in 2017 makes for a very difficult argument for anyone on why they've changed their position and were willing to vote for it then and aren't willing to vote for it now." He's right. Either members were on board with the proposal or it was just political posturing. If it was a messaging tool, as one member suggested to me, they forgot to tell voters.
Americans believed the GOP was serious about uprooting the worst mistake of the Obama years enough to give them the keys to Congress and the White House. Now is the time for Republicans to deliver. If that means holding some members' feet to the fire, so be it. There's absolutely no excuse for not supporting a budget resolution that identical to the one passed by Congress 17 months ago. For seven years, Republicans have railed against Obamacare and campaigned on its repeal. Now we'll find out if it is in fact the Grand Old Party -- or the Grand Old Phony.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.