Republicans Change Course, Prepare for Healthcare Vote Thursday

Not more than a few weeks after declaring “Obamacare is the law of the land,” House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican party are moving forward with a modified American Health Care Act, and have declared their intention to bring the bill to a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives tomorrow, Thursday May 4th.

Discussions to revive the AHCA (Trumpcare, Trump(doesn’t)Care, RyanCare, GOPCare, Zombie Care, take your pick) began shortly before President Trump’s 100th day, in what appeared to be a frenetic search for a campaign promise that would be possible to fulfill prior to the ultimately superfluous deadline. For the majority of that time, however, there has been little indication that these conversations would end any differently than they did the first time around– the common belief has been that the votes simply are not there. The original amendment to the bill was enough to bring the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus’ votes back on board, but simultaneously  alienated moderates by further stripping protections for pre-existing conditions.

So what changed between late last week and today? The absolute answer is unclear, as the Congressional Budget Office will not be able to compose a cost and effect estimate before the amended bill comes to a vote Thursday. If nothing else, that should make clear exactly how concerned Republicans are about the effects of this bill: they want to ensure it is passed before anyone can figure out what the cost will be– whether in dollars, or human life. That said, what we do know is that the compromise reached today, which brought several “no” votes back into the fold, added eight billion dollars in spending, purposively for offsetting the cost of treating those with pre-exiting conditions. Some Republican moderates say this is enough. The American Medical Association (AMA), American Association of Retired People (AARP), American Cancer Society, and Democratic party leaders do not agree, calling the number woefully inadequate and reiterating the statistic that, if passed, the AHCA will leave 24 million people uninsured in the next nine years. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also likened the bill to administering cough syrup to a person with stage four cancer, saying the AHCA leaves people as badly off as they were before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

The question remains, does the Republican party actually have enough votes to pass this bill? Ultimately, this remains undetermined. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has claimed that “the bill was passed,” but also, in the same breath, suggested we all “be optimistic about life,” so take that with as large a grain of salt as you feel it deserves. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did not offer an explicit opinion about whether the AHCA had the necessary support, but did emphasize that the Republican party would be hitching its moral and fiscal platform to the bill were they to garner the votes to ensure its passage. This is a fair, if less-than-optimistic point by Pelosi, but it seems there is one more important waiting to be made: even if the bill does squeeze through the House of Representatives, it will–far more likely than not–die on the Senate floor. Senate Republicans do not have the full majority to pass the bill in a partisan vote. Given that House Republicans made no effort to seek Democratic input on the bill, it seems unlikely that they would able to get any votes from them. The only remaining option would be to go nuclear, again, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to change Senate procedure regarding the passage of bills. Thus, even if Republicans do gain the symbolic victory in the House, it is highly unlikely to amount to anything meaningful. That is not, however, an excuse to become complicit: it is absolutely imperative that anyone and everyone who could be affected by this bill make their opinions about it known to their Representatives tomorrow, and, if necessary, their Senators in the coming weeks. The victories the Resistance has gained thus far have come directly at the hands of millions of people on the front lines, standing up and demanding their elected representatives do their job and represent the interests of their electorate. We cannot grow complacent now, or we risk losing the energy and renewed efficacy within the Democratic party that will drive us forward towards victories not just in resistance, but also in 2018 and beyond.

Finally, it is worth noting that this decision came in the midst of FBI Director James Comey’s second public testimony on the investigation into the Trump administration’s possible collusion with Russian efforts to undermine the election, and a day before Comey and NSA Director Michael Rogers testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee for the second time, in a closed session to allow for the presentation of classified information. It also comes the same day that the House approved a budget that would fund the Federal government through September, but included none of the provisions Trump insisted on. As Rachel Maddow reported last night, the budget is, line for line, effectively a list of Democratic policy goals. (This also led to quite an amusing conference call in which the White House attempted to spin the budget as a Conservative victory, though that is outside of the point of this post). With all this in mind, one has to wonder if this rush to pass the AHCA is nothing more than a desperate attempt to get a victory before anyone notices what else is going on.

It certainly is an interesting time folks. Expect more in the very near future as all of this unfolds.

— This is the ALF, signing off.

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