Nate Jackson / July 26, 2017

Senate GOP Votes to Debate, Not to Do Anything

And only barely — it took a tie-breaking vote from VP Mike Pence to move forward. The first bill then failed.

Senate Republicans moved Tuesday to begin debate on various measures to repeal, replace or at least modify ObamaCare. Barely. It took Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote to do so. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could afford just two defectors, and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) obliged. Collins has been a de facto ObamaCare supporter all along. Though she voted “no” on the original law, she has routinely rejected appeal and reform attempts ever since. Murkowski is another matter. She reversed course from her vote for repeal while Barack Obama held the veto pen. The Senate should “repeal and fix this unworkable law,” Murkowski declared in May 2016, adding that “a full repeal of the law would be the best course of action.”

Well, never mind then.

The first bill that came for a vote was the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s version of repeal-and-replace. Predictably, it went down in defeat, 43-57. For those keeping score at home, nine Republicans broke ranks and voted with Democrats. Moderates Collins and Murkowski opposed it, while conservatives Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) stubbornly insisted the bill was insufficient. And then there were Bob Corker (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), who each voted no for various reasons.

The Wall Street Journal nailed weak-kneed Republican moderates, saying, “Members have been debating among themselves for weeks, they know or should know the bill’s essential policy choices, and the bill isn’t getting prettier with age. That’s especially true on Medicaid reform and spending, which is the chief gripe of the so-called moderates. … They keep demanding more money. They keep getting it, but it’s never enough.”

On this count, President Donald Trump got it exactly right: “It’s a very, very difficult situation, because you move a little to the left, and you lose four guys. You move a little bit to the right, and all of a sudden you have a bloc of people who are gone. You have a one-inch road and it wheels through the middle of the valley.” To use another metaphor, some Republicans are willing to sink a “good” bill with a torpedo named “perfect.” Others are happy to stay aboard the Democrats’ Titanic listening to the band play as the ship goes down.

Next is an up-or-down vote on complete repeal with replace coming later. That too is sure to fail, but at least ObamaCare’s Republican defenders will be on record for voters to judge. Two years ago, every Republican but Collins voted for straight repeal. This time, it could be a dozen who oppose it.

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