There’s no sense left in the Republican Senate when two fairly sensible members, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, are putting everything into yet another effort to pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a bill as flawed, if not more, than the so-called skinny repeal that went down in July.
Rather than leave bad enough alone, with hurricanes and Rocket Man diverting attention from their failure, the Quixotic crusade is back on. Overcome by their hunger to deliver a win to the base, erase once and for all the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama, and show Chuck and Nancy that they can have all the crispy beef they want with the president but they’re still in the minority, they’re moving to pass a bill almost no one understands, or wants to. Winning is everything.
The vote count is fluid but comes down to the same handful of senators who voted no on skinny repeal. Of those, only Susan Collins is a firm no as of Wednesday; Lisa Murkowski said she’s still waiting to see what it means for Alaska (answer: nothing good). There’s a possible New No: Rand Paul who trash-talks the bill every chance he gets. But he’s known for crying wolf. He was against skinny repeal before he voted for it.
That makes Sen. John McCain critical once again. He cast the hard, but right, vote to kill the skinny bill earlier this summer. But will he kill the latest effort, when doing so would gravely wound Graham, his closest friend in Washington?
He should, of course. Graham-Cassidy is, if anything, worse than the prior bill. The last vote was personal for McCain—he returned to the Senate floor after learning he had a life-threatening brain tumor and surprised his party at 1:30 in the morning casting the deciding vote against them. This one is personal for Graham. He’s put his name and his heft behind a last gasp at repeal and replace with who-knows-what before Sept. 30 while 50 votes can still carry the day.
The strain is showing. McCain seesaws almost daily. The day the bill was introduced McCain was asked if he was for it and said, “Yes. You think I wouldn’t be?” He said he was waiting to find out how it would affect his state and found out when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey wholeheartedly welcomed it despite the fact that Arizonans would lose Medicaid expansion funds of about $1.6 billion by 2026. Ducey was reportedly for skinny repeal and McCain ignored that once. He hinted he would do it again on Wednesday when he raised the same objections to Graham-Cassidy he cited for voting against skinny repeal—a yearning for the good old days when a bill became a law through regular order—a scoring by the Congressional Budget Office and hearings.
For his part, Graham, usually one of the most accommodating senators, snapped at a reporter, asking twice, voice rising, “Where do you get this garbage?” to the suggestion that the bill might not cover pre-existing conditions at a rate anyone could afford. Leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, Graham didn’t have assurance yet that McConnell would bring the bill to the floor but he got it later. “We’re inside the five yard line,” Graham said. So was the skinny bill. It didn’t make it into the end zone.
You can understand why Republicans wouldn’t submit to their own test as to what their bill would do. The usual answer to queries is that Obamacare is failing anyway and that state and local governments are better than faceless bureaucrats in deciding how to protect their citizens. The conclusion of experts is that states that want to keep everyone covered under existing law would likely have to pay a lot more, and rights that an individual had to being covered will be gone. No wonder Graham’s co-author refers to the Jimmy Kimmel test (although Kimmel notes he fails it) when there is no regular order, no hearings, no bill to read. If the dogs knew what was in the dog food they surely wouldn’t eat it.
There’s more to see here. We all have a terminal disease, but not all of us know what it is, or hear the clock ticking, or do both in public. We hope we will be our best selves. In McCain’s case, the existential dread made a good man better back in July. When the pressure to take one for the team was immense to give his party bereft of victory a win, McCain said no. It was harder than he made it look. And now it will be harder yet. His best friend needs him. We wait to see whether he will heed his country, which needs him more.