Friday, May 5, 2017

How should journalists cover the House vote on repeal-and-replace?

Yesterday morning, I posted something that was just the tiniest-bit-snarky about how the Republicans' efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare are still facing tough odds because the House isn't the hard part.  The Senate is, and if Republicans had this tough a time with the House, they're not in a very strong position.  Yet, to read the news coverage, you'd think they just had the greatest victory in the history of political victories!!!!  MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS AND ALL-CAPS!!!!

So, how should the press cover yesterday's vote?  There is the question of symmetry.  It was, in my opinion, rightly covered as a massive failure and embarrassment when Ryan had to cancel the initial repeal-and-replace vote, so does that mean that this must be a victory of equal magnitude when the House passes a bill?  No.  That completely misses the point.  It wouldn't have been a massive failure and embarrassment the first time around if it weren't for the fact that the House is supposed to be the chamber where the majority party gets its way.  That's the point I keep trying to beat into the ground.  In fact, right before the vote had to be canceled in March, I posted this explaining that Ryan should have had the votes to pass the thing based on strategic incentives, and I was left scratching my head trying to explain why he couldn't pull it off.

Pass the New York or California bar exam and you get to celebrate.  Pass your learner's permit test after failing it a couple of times and you didn't win a major victory.  You probably just got lucky that last time, and you really should be kept off the road anyway.  Hopefully, you'll be kept in one of those cars with a big "STUDENT DRIVER" sign on it so that the rest of us can steer clear.

Yes, that does mean that the proper sequence is to cover the canceled vote as a major failure, but not to cover this as a major win.  Because the Republicans are so very far from actually winning anything.  This was the easy part, and a) the bill that passed does nothing to demonstrate that Republicans have the capacity to find a bill capable of garnering the approval of both the House Freedom Caucus and the Senate moderates at the same time, which was always the real challenge, and b) they still don't even know how to manage Senate procedure on this given the challenge of dealing with the Byrd Rule on budget reconciliation.  The fact that Republicans are celebrating now shows one of several things:

1)  House Republicans don't care about a policy victory-- they just needed to pass the buck, so it doesn't matter if this goes nowhere now.
2)  They don't understand how hard the next steps are.
3)  This is about trying to garner media momentum in the misguided belief that it will help in the next step.
4)  The big victory is undoing the embarrassment of last time around.

These aren't mutually exclusive explanations, and there could be more going on, but from the media's perspective, it is important to understand that yesterday's House vote was not, by any real standard, a major victory because it just shouldn't have been that difficult, which was the point of yesterday's snarky post.  If I thought Ryan should have been able to pull this off in March (which I did), the fact that we are here now means that the Republicans are screwing up, not winning bigly.

Not that I'm trying to diminish Trump and Ryan's victory.  They made a boom boom!  We're SO PROUD of them!

Get back to me when Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito and Cory Gardner are anywhere near being on the same page as the House Freedom Caucus.  Then I'll be impressed.

Quick thought for where this goes from here, and I'll elaborate later:  Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski will personally be locked out of the room for any negotiation.  Dump trucks of money will be pulled up to every other waffling Republican Senator.  Odds still run against success, but that'll be the process.  More to come...

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