What began in enforced secrecy with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and twelve angry men has been ended, for now, at the hands of three women in the bright light of day.
To recap: The first version of the Senate’s attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act was a horror. Several Republicans killed it before it could die in a vote. The second version dangled by a thread as John McCain went home to deal with a health issue, and was finally undone by Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah, who plotted their decision to join the “No” brigade with Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine at the same time as Donald Trump was downing ribeye and succotash with wavering senators at the White House.
The third version, a messy “Repeal Now And Pray For Rain Later” bungle that was originally floated in 2015, was killed by three Republicans — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Shelley Moore Capito — before it had time to tie its shoes. As of Tuesday evening, there is no fourth version to speak of. McConnell is making noises about bringing Version 3.0 to a doomed vote anyway, just to get everyone on the record.
Republicans, all. The politics and the optics, the optics and the politics, oh my, oh my. I’m so old, I remember when the ACA was going to be repealed on “Day One,” after which I was really going to get sick of all this winning. Look where we are now. The GOP’s signature goal, promised on a daily basis for more than seven years, is now a burning jalopy in the breakdown lane of the highway. Why?
Number one: Resistance. Massive numbers of Americans, led by disabled and chronically ill people willing to be arrested in the halls of Congress to push home the point, took to the phones, the streets and the internet to oppose this thrice-baked crudmuffin. This made a world of difference, particularly in swaying Republican moderates when the deal finally went down. More than a few hardliners felt that heat, as well, and responded. It mattered, right down to the ground.
Number two: Republicans. The DC Democrats could have taken the balance of this last year off and downed piña coladas with the werewolves at Trader Vic’s for all the impact they’ve had on the legislative agenda. While enormous public resistance against every iteration of the GOP’s ACA repeal efforts was the foremost cause of this victory, amen, we also need to look at the flawed strategies and internal politics that allowed the party to fail so dramatically. This festival of botch was all Republicans, from soup to nuts.
The entirety of the Republican leadership in Congress helped cause this, I am pleased to say, by spending nearly 3,000 days promising to repeal the ACA while never bothering to develop a plan to actually do it.
The Freedom Caucus helped cause this by forcing a House version of ACA repeal that would have made Genghis Khan wince and turn away, and Paul Ryan helped cause this by letting them.
Mitch McConnell helped cause this by taking the bag of hammers given to him by the House and turning it three separate times into something so unpalatable that the moderates and the hardliners started speaking the same language, albeit for different reasons. Collins, Murkowski and Capito wanted no part of the assault on Medicaid and on health care for women in general, which made their endgame move perfectly karmic in nature. Moran, for his part, warned that McConnell’s bill would cause health care in the US to somehow “devolve into a single-payer system.” Dread the thought. Both Collins and Moran denounced the secrecy of the process. Beat that with a stick.
The seeds planted with Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1968 … have produced a bumper crop of New Republicans who don’t know how to legislate, and got jobs in government to prove that government doesn’t work.
Donald Trump helped cause this because he is an anthropomorphic earthquake with a Twitter account. He devoted enormous energies during his presidential campaign to the promise of repealing the ACA, but like most of his congressional compatriots, had no plan to do so. The House GOP moved heaven and earth to pass its wretched version of repeal; Trump feted the House for the accomplishment, and then turned on a dime and called its bill “mean” just as the Senate was preparing to take up the legislation. During this final push, Trump tweeted about Russia and served peach cobbler … and sat on his hands.
Trump, McConnell and Ryan have the world at their feet, politically speaking. The stars don’t line up like this even once in a generation. So what’s the problem?
The Republican Party is its own problem. The seeds planted with Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1968 came to full bloom with Ronald Reagan and the mantra that “government is the problem.” These seeds, sown generously with fear, greed and Calvinist fundamentalism for more than 35 years, have produced a bumper crop of New Republicans who don’t know how to legislate, and got jobs in government to prove that government doesn’t work … while siphoning off some cash for their friends and benefactors, of course. What you also get is President Donald Trump as the final triumph of the un-mind. Supply-Side Jesus approves.
Yet the lesson here is not, “The Republicans are incompetent, let them ruin themselves, it’s over!” For those of us who hold to the simple notion that we are in fact charged with the care and protection of our fellow passengers on this odd rock, this fight is far from finished. “Nobody who believes that human beings have a right to a government guarantee of health care, security in their old age and society’s support should they be unable to work,” writes Heather Digby Parton, “should ever rest on their laurels. Those who don’t agree will never stop trying to take those things away.” Those who don’t agree still control the government, and will tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. They have no quit in them, and so the resistance must continue to stand.
In the near term, however, feel free to take a moment and gaze at the wreckage, born of hubris. Trump, McConnell and Ryan will find zero degrees Kelvin in an ice cube tray before they find a solution to the conundrum that is the modern Republican Congress they all labored to create.
“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything,” said George Bernard Shaw. “That points clearly to a political career.” I know three unhappy fellows in DC who fit that description like a moldy old shoe. It’s only Wednesday, and a potentially apocalyptic debt ceiling fight is still lurking out there in the tall grass beyond the rubble of total failure … along with a whole other fight over taxes, which will be even messier now that the tax breaks in the BCRA have gone up in smoke … and there’s the budget, too. It only gets weirder from here. Take appropriate precautions.