Sunday, July 16, 2017

How the Senate MIGHT pass a healthcare bill

Back to your normally-scheduled national politics...

We are now starting to see the contours of Mitch McConnell's plan to pass a "repeal-and-replace" bill.  The short version?  Hope that Lisa Murkowski, Dean Heller and the other holdouts are too goldfish-brained to remember what happened to Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu in 2010.

I've been through this before, but here's the quick version.  In 2010, Democrats had 60 seats, and they needed all 60 to invoke cloture.  They weren't using budget reconciliation because they wanted regulatory changes in addition to fiscal policy changes.  (Republicans are trying to figure out how to lie to the parliamentarian and claim that regulatory changes are just budgetary changes, but that's another matter...).  Senators Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu represented Nebraska and Louisiana respectively, and they were appropriately not that liberal.  Then-Majority Leader Harry Reid needed their votes.  He basically pulled up to their Senate offices with dump-trucks of money for their states, called colloquially the "cornhusker kickback" and the "Louisiana purchase."  With special, little pots of money just for Nebraska and Louisiana, Nelson and Landrieu were bought off, and voted yes on the ACA.  The ACA passed the Senate with 60 votes.  Done deal.  Then, crazy shit happened.  Ted Kennedy died, and a Republican won a special election to replace him.  Before the House and Senate versions were reconciled.  The only way Democrats could get a bill signed into law was for the House to pass the Senate's unamended bill.  The House did so, only under the condition that afterwards, both chambers pass a "budget reconciliation" bill that stripped out the cornhusker kickback and the Louisiana purchase, and if Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu didn't like it, tough shit.  The budget reconciliation bill didn't need 60 votes.  That was the point.  59 would be fine.  So would 57.  So, if Nelson and Landrieu voted no along with Scott Brown, leaving only 57 for the reconciliation bill, so what?  They only needed 51 for that one.  So, Nelson and Landrieu voted yes on the ACA, and got the shaft.

Mitch McConnell is now offering Lisa Murkowski a big pot of money for Alaska.  The "Kodiak Kickback," some are calling it!  McConnell has 52 seats.  He needs 50 votes, and Susan Collins and Rand Paul have already said no.  He can't lose any more votes.  If Murkowski says no, that's it.  So, he's pulling his dump-truck of money up to Lisa Murkowski's office and offering everything he can muster.  Basically, funds to help defray the costs of high premiums in an absurdly expensive state.  Similar attempts will be made with Capito, Heller and anyone else who waffles.

Anyone who takes the deal is a moron with the memory of a goldfish.  The deal that McConnell offers ain't worth the paper it's printed on.  It wouldn't be taken away in precisely the same manner as the cornhusker kickback or the Louisiana purchase.  In fact, it can't be.  Count the votes.  Lower the threshold below 50, and you no longer have a majority, so there's no post-BCRA budget reconciliation bill (BCRA is already a budget reconciliation bill), but the deal would still have to survive the normal House-Senate reconciliation process (sorry about the multiple meanings of the word, "reconciliation"), and even if it did that, it would then have to survive the normal budget and appropriations process.  The Freedom Caucus will be gunning for that money the second the ink dries.  Could the deal be stable?  Sure.  Should Murkowski or anyone else trust that it will be stable?  Fuck no.

Will Murkowski take the deal?  Will Heller or Capito take a similar deal?  I don't know.  I'd bet against it for Murkowski on the grounds that she is ideologically close to Collins, and therefore probably really just doesn't like the bill.  Nelson and Landrieu were at least ideologically more sympathetic to the ACA.  Still, at this point, nothing is really off the table.  McConnell's resources are limited, though, and he may not have enough to buy off Murkowski, Heller and Capito, and he would need to buy off all three to make this thing work.  That may be the biggest obstacle.

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