So I guess I can’t ignore this thing forever. If you remember the initial Trumpcare Bill, I enjoyed reading through and annotating the entire 100-odd pages with whiskey. For Trumpcare 2.0: The Bill Strikes Back, I created my own Whip Count and tried to keep up on that frenetic Friday. But on Trumpcare 3.0, barely a peep of good old Commentary. Why?
The main reason is that I am finding the coverage this time around to be greatly superior than the similar situation we found ourselves in at the end of March. I think some of this is on “the media’s” end – they have learned how to cover vote scrambling in the Twitter Age. Some of it is me – the sources were there, I just didn’t find them.
So, where am I looking? There are four Twitter accounts – if all you do is read everything they post on Twitter you will know more about the details of this vote than 99% of the world. They are:
There are others, and I apologize for leaving them off. But these are four people who are basically spending their day chasing down Members and telling us what they are saying. It sounds like fascinating work; I doubt any of the four has slept in days. There are also two whip counts that I’m watching, rather than maintaining my own:
For disclosure – I think it's safe to say that all of these sources, like me, are opposed to Trumpcare. But the list of people, outlets, or organizations who are pitching Trumpcare on the merits is short to non-existent.
So that’s where I’m getting my info – here is what I make of it.
We start where we left off with Trumpcare 2.0 being pulled before a vote. Last week, Reps. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ, Tuesday Group) and Mark Meadows (R-NC, HFC), agreed to a set of changes, the so-called MacArthur Amendment. The purpose of the Amendment was to make the bill more palatable to the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus. It did so by allowing states to strip all of the ACA’s protections by requesting a waiver. They could eliminate protections against pre-existing conditions or no longer require that plans cover things like maternity or hospital stays. The waivers would be trivial to obtain, states would not have to take any real action to help those who would be harmed.
Remembering the Fundamental Theorem of Health Insurance:
If it's not required for everybody, it will not be available for everybody. If everybody has the choice, then nobody will have a choice.
We see that any state that waives a benefit like prescription drugs, with the stated goal of Giving Everybody a Choice, will soon find that no plans offer affordable prescription coverage. Nobody will have a choice. So, these waivers are a terrible idea. If you add it to Trump’s famous “Phase 2”, you get to exactly the point we feared in Blurred Lines. Every Democrat and many Republicans are calling this out as explicitly breaking Trump’s promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions.
Looking at the various whip counts, there are around 20 GOP Representatives publicly opposed to this bill. At least 30, perhaps many more, are undecided. Recall that Trump/Ryan can afford to lose only about 22 GOP votes, plus or minus a couple depending on absences. The 20 who are currently opposed include the somewhat moderate members of the GOP caucus who have been opposed since the beginning, such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, who just announced her retirement) and John Katko (R-NY). But it also includes some severe conservatives like Billy “Tea Party before Tea Party was Cool” Long (R-MO), whose daughter had a fight with cancer. He made a personal statement against Trumpcare, explaining what the ACA’s protections mean. The undecided list includes a ton more moderates. But there also members of the “Whip Team,” like Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). These are the Reps who are in charge of getting the votes for the bill! The undecideds also include several senior Conservatives who fit perfectly the label of reliable vote: Fred Upton (R-MI, former Ways and Means chair), Michael Turner (R-OH, openly striving to be next Armed Services chair) and Hal Rogers (R-KY, former Appropriations chair). If there is one bright spot, current Appropriations chair Rodney Freylinghuysen (R-NJ), whose opposition put the nail in Trumpcare 2.0’s coffin, is only undecided. Hard to know what’s happening behind closed doors, but it’s hard to square the repeated confidence of the White House and GOP leadership if Fred frigging Upton isn’t on board.
An interlude about how Congress works. Congressman can say whatever they want. They can be opposed to the bill today, but not tomorrow. They are greatly swayed by what their colleagues are doing – they don’t want to vote for an unpopular bill that is going down in flames. They are susceptible to both positive pressure (“what changes do we make to get your vote?”) and negative (“if you don’t vote it, then we will…”). Bills themselves are influx until the minute they are put up for a vote. If Representatives want to get to a yes vote, it’s easy to throw on a fig leaf amendment to give them cover. On the other hand, Representatives can try to box themselves in to a corner; for example, it’s hard to see how Billy Long can possibly get to yes after this statement. This is strategic; presumably leadership will stop bothering to twist his arm.
This is all to say that whip counts are great, but there is still a distinct possibility that all the undecideds and even some no votes break in favor of this travesty of a plan. The famous “we’ll fix it in the Senate” line can work wonders. This is despite its complete dis-ingenuity; if it is known how to make the bill better, why not do it now.
My take is this – every single member of the Undecided Caucus is really a “no” but they don’t want to so publicly oppose Ryan and Trump. You can see this by looking at the list. John Faso (R-NY) – by a quirk, this bill would cut off all subsidies for his state. Same for Ken Calvert and Darrell Issa (R-CA). Justin Amash (R-MI) is probably the most conservative politician in the country that I respect; he knows this is a terrible plan and doesn’t care about upsetting leadership. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Dan Webster (R-FL), Tom Garrett(R-VA)? How can they be brought on board?
There is a famous Congressional saying: if you have the votes, vote, if you don’t have the votes, talk. Like they say in sports: flags fly forever. If you win a World Series, you can be in last place the next season and they can’t take it away. Similarly, for legislation to pass, it just needs to have any single instant in time where it has the support. Fifty supporters can turn against it immediately after, but the bill has still passed.
But they are talking, so they know they don’t yet have the votes. Approximately 8 members of the House Freedom Caucus moved from no to yes with the MacArthur Amendment, but they seem to have lost at least that many in the other direction. I don’t see how this thing has a chance. On the other hand, unlike certain residents of the White House, Paul Ryan isn’t an idiot. He knows it looks bad to be scrambling like this, for a few votes, on your own bill, which has mid-teens approval in the public. So, maybe he has a plan up his sleeve to get the votes.
Oh, while I was writing this, Fred Upton has apparently announced as a public no. Why are they continuing to bash their heads against this brick wall?