Friday, June 23, 2017

The Real Reason Mitch McConnell is Rushing the GOP Health Care Bill

Tom thinks Mitch is crafting a winning strategy.  By losing fast.

Mitch McConnell, as canny a pro on Capitol Hill as there is, has developed a novel strategy for the Senate version of the GOP health care bill – the long bomb. 

If you get football, here it is.  We’re in overtime after seven years of playing.  Mitch finally has the ball.  He takes over on his own 20-yard line and has decided he is going to run only one play, going for broke, the bomb.  No sustained drive for him.  He’s not even calling a huddle.  He’s hoping his team is on the same page and everything breaks correctly, and the Opposition is caught flatfooted.  If he wins, he wins, if he loses, he’s not even going to try another play.

If you don’t get football, here are the politics.  Draft the bill in private in a working group (13 white guys); spring it on the rest of the Senate as late as possible; don’t allow a committee to touch it and hold open hearings; and push for a vote in a week, that is, before the July 4 recess.  Assuming you can get your 50 votes, losing at most two of your own, then you use the summer to work out a compromise on the bill with the House, not lose anyone from either the Senate or the House in the process, and get a final bill on Trump’s desk for signing.

The presumed reason for such a process has been widely reported.  Everyone knows the bill is a dog, that 20+ million Americans will lose coverage under TrumpCare over time, that premiums will soar in the early years, and that the GOP would face, in 2018, ad after ad featuring real Americans who lost coverage with TrumpCare and were either economically ruined or died for lack of care.  Twenty million stories are a lot to choose from.  The McConnell process is based on the premise, the less said about it the better.  And more to the point, the less scrutiny, the fewer horrific headlines about the bill, and, if you avoid a hurricane of blowback, you just might entice enough Senators to sign on based on the notion of “promises kept.”

It’s cynical and appalling, but nobody ever mistook Mitch McConnell for Gandhi or King.  This is not about righteousness.  He is a sneaky bastard, and he wants to win.  Very badly.  And winning, for him, means:  1) winning reelection, 2) keeping his post as Majority Leader, which implies 3) holding on to the GOP majority in the Senate.  And he will craft precise legislative strategies to, in his cold assessment, maximize his odds of achieving these goals.

But there is another reason for the "going fast " strategy, that is not receiving any play, and that is, going fast is the best strategy for McConnell in the event the bill fails.

McConnell has said the vote will be by July 4, and if it fails, there will be no other attempt.  Because if he pursues this strategy and loses, then it’s all over.  McConnell can say the GOP gave it the good fight, and while the defeat stings, ultimately no one gets hurt by this monstrosity of a bill, and he still has 16 months to get tax reform and infrastructure reform done, and the GOP faithful will surely conclude two out of three ain’t bad.  He wants to get on to win/win legislation, and get away from lose/lose losers like health care has proven to be.

By moving fast, and cutting his losses, McConnell might win even if he loses.  In fact, knowing full well what a rotten bill this is, he may even prefer that outcome.  Here’s why.

In 2018, the GOP has an incredibly friendly Senate map.   They have 52 seats right now, and one might think they are at a huge risk of losing three or more seats and thus losing control to the Dems.  But actually it is not likely they are going to lose the Senate at all, even with a weak Trump.  There are only nine GOP Senators that are up for reelection in 2018 and, realistically, only two of them are truly vulnerable, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake in Arizona.  The other seven won their last race by +17 or more points, and all are in Deep Red states.   Even if Heller and Flake lost, the Dems have to hold onto all of their seats (including 10 in states Trump won), and even then it would not be enough – that would result in a 50/50 split with Pence still the tiebreaking vote.  So it would take an utter catastrophe for the GOP to lose the Senate.

So, if you are McConnell, which health care bill scenario is more likely to result in catastrophe, among the two bad options?  Failing to pass the bill (very disappointing!) or passing the bill (20 million Americans actually lose health insurance!  Huge premium increases actually happen!  All those horrible ads get aired!)?  It is no contest.  The better option is to lose.

And that is why there will be no second play. The bill will be voted up or down before July 4.  If the GOP loses, then they will salvage the next 16 months and begin work on something – anything – that may hold more promise for a legislative win.  Because Mitch McConnell wants to be done with health care once and for all.  He wants to move on.  He does not want to tie up Senate time for months on end, for the balance of 2017, trying to solve a Rubik’s cube that has no answer. If he is going to lose, he wants to lose quickly.

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