Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bowed to political reality Tuesday afternoon: Postponing a planned vote this week on the Senate’s health care bill, according to CNN.
“We will not be on the bill this week,” McConnell said Tuesday
There’s a tendency when it comes to controversial legislation – and this health care bill is very much that – to believe that delay is a good thing. McConnell wants to change parts of the bill. We’ll make the bill better! We’ll convince more people! Time is our friend!
It (almost) never works. The longer a bill sits out without a vote, the bigger pinata it becomes to its detractors, who find new and different things to object to it. That’s especially true for a recess week, which Republicans are headed into this weekend. And while the idea of more time allowing wavering members to be convinced sounds like capital “D” democracy, usually the members wavering have mostly made up their minds.
To me, saying something like “I could vote for the bill if it radically changes to exactly what I want” is not really being on the fence. “I could agree with your view if you would totally change it and agree with me” isn’t exactly “open to persuasion.” (Rand Paul, I am looking at you.)
It’s not very different for Senate moderates.
“I have so many fundamental problems with the bill…that it’s difficult to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my concerns with the bill,” said Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
The bill as written is, basically, the bill. Yes, Senate Republicans may add a chunk of money to deal with opioid addiction epidemic or try to find a way to make Medicaid cuts less tough. But there’s no way the bill is going to suddenly insure more people than the Affordable Care Act does. Or even 10 million fewer. (The Congressional Budget Office estimate is that the Senate bill would insure 22 million fewer people.) Any major change in the bill will alienate either the conservative holdouts or the centrist holdouts. And McConnell has next-to-no wiggle room.
If there was a simple or elegant solution available to Republicans on health care, they would have already taken it! The reason health care is so difficult to change is because there are no good or easy answers. You can’t simultaneously insure everyone, get rid of the individual mandate, lower premiums, lower deductibles and cut the deficit. It just doesn’t add up – or come close to adding up.
In short: Delaying a vote on the bill doesn’t change the basic political dynamics of the bill. The problems that Lee or Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) have with the health care legislation on June 27 are the same problems they will have on July 8 or August 8.
This was always going to be a hard vote for Senate Republicans – just like it was a hard vote for House Republicans. (They had to try twice before they got it passed in the House.) The best thing to do on hard votes is either take them or move on. Kicking a hard vote down the road a week or a month just means that that week or month will be dominated by talk of the hard vote even though none of the underlying difficulties are likely to be resolved.
McConnell knows this. This delay in the heath care vote – or, more accurately at the moment, a delay in a decision not to hold a vote – will likely accomplish very little other than to block up any and all other legislative action on matters not related to health care.
And time is not on Senate Republicans’ side.