While several members of the Senate took Congress’ July 4 recess as an opportunity to hold town halls with constituents and address Obamacare repeal, not a single one of them is defending the bill as written by GOP leadership.
There’s plenty of criticism for it, to be sure. Moderate Republicans oppose the bill’s adjustments to Medicaid and the repeal of Obamacare’s taxes. They also want to cement Obamacare’s regulations in place. Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, for example, told his constituents that he remains “very interested” in keeping Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions regulations.
Conservatives, meanwhile, remain perplexed and upset at leadership for failing to advance a bill that keeps longstanding Republican promises. Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, insist that an amendment be adopted to give insurance companies additional options and freedom (in order to give consumers the same).
Failing this, Senator Cruz said he supports a plan proposed by Sens. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. and Rand Paul, R-Ky. for full repeal now and replacement later. “If we cannot bring the conference together and agree on repeal legislation, then I think President Trump’s absolutely right that we should pass a clean repeal,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall in Austin, Texas.
Senator Paul remains firm in his opposition to the Senate health care bill, though he has his own proposal that, if adopted, could move him closer to “yes.”
The idea is to let individuals band together in large, nationwide associations to negotiate prices with insurance companies. By removing regulations that prevent individuals from buying health insurance across state lines, Sen. Paul says organizations like AARP and its 37 million members could negotiate and buy health insurance as a group.
"It doesn't require a mandate; it requires a liberalization of the law. It requires more freedom to let people associate across states lines," Paul said. However, his colleague from Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has indicated that such a proposal could not be included in the budget reconciliation process Republicans are attempting to use to tweak Obamacare.
And there is the problem. Who is to blame for the divisions in the Republican conference? Who drafted the bill behind closed doors and brought forward a plan that no one in the party is willing to defend? Who is the gatekeeper of the Senate rules that are preventing changes to the bill that could unify the conference?
Mitch McConnell — who is using the Senate rules as an excuse for inaction and his poor leadership.
"What we're trying to do is a very complicated procedure," McConnell said Thursday. "I'm in the position of the guy with the Rubik's Cube, trying to twist the dial in such a way to get to at least 50 members of our conference who can agree to a version of repealing and replacing at least as much of it as we can agree to do. That is a very timely subject that I'm grappling with as we speak."
Speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon in Glasgow, Ky., McConnell said that if the Senate can’t come to an agreement, Republicans would work with Democrats to “fix” Obamacare, rather than repeal it.
"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur," McConnell said. "No action is not an alternative. ... We've got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state."
McConnell has several options that don’t involve begging Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for help in fixing what the Democrats ruined. He could restore the filibuster, ending the “two-track” system implemented in the 1970s that has all but ended debate of consequential legislation in the U.S. Senate. This would permit Republicans to use their majority to pass health care reforms without obstruction from Democrats.
McConnell could also fire or overrule the Senate parliamentarian, advancing a real repeal bill past the Senate’s arbitrary and unnecessary rules.
The majority leader has thus far refused to consider these options, and he is loath to explain how Republicans have reached this point following seven years of categorical and repeated campaign promises to repeal the ACA.
The fact of the matter is that, as the Republican leader in the Senate during Obamacare’s passage … and during the seven-year campaign to repeal the ACA … and now under the Trump administration with historic party majorities, it was Mitch McConnell’s responsibility to unify the GOP and advance a conservative vision for health care reform.
By every metric, McConnell has failed to do so. Why, then, does he remain majority leader?