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EDITORIAL: Politicians, heal thyselves
With help from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who flew cross-country to cast the tying vote, and Vice President Mike Pence, who broke that 50-50 deadlock, Senate Republicans on Tuesday resuscitated their effort to reverse the 7-year-old Affordable Care Act.
What they will do now, disconcertingly, is anybody’s guess.
While the next health care steps are now under formal debate, the first step was faltering. Just hours after agreeing to move forward, senators overwhelmingly rejected a comprehensive GOP bill to replace President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. That vote, 43-57, foretold the uphill slog that lies ahead.
It also shows that the earlier vote Tuesday was about as craven a political maneuver as can be imagined. With no plan to reform the nation’s health care system, no support from the public to do it, and no business threatening health-care protections for millions of Americans, Republicans nonetheless pledged allegiance to party over public good.
That’s too bad, because in the wake of last week’s abandoned health care vote, there was talk of a much-needed bipartisan effort to take an honest go at improving the current system’s shortcomings.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s entreaties for just such a move fell on deaf ears before Tuesday’s voting. It remains to be seen whether similar and dramatic post-vote arguments from McCain, who decried the partisan process that led to the current health care standoff, will be more persuasive.
“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle,” McCain said in addressing the Senate after the vote to move forward with debate. “We’re getting nothing done.”
It was a powerful speech, and would have been more so had McCain not minutes earlier cast a vote endorsing the very process he was criticizing.
Still, one wonders how his remarks were received by colleagues like Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, who has been a reliable Republican vote for dismantling the Affordable Care Act despite warnings it could cost his state billions of dollars and see some 700,000 residents lose health insurance by 2026.
Also squirming may have been West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, who just days earlier had taken a principled stand against efforts to gut the current health care system — “I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” she declared — before falling in line Tuesday.
Only Lisa Murkowski of Arkansas and Susan Collins of Maine bucked the heavy hand of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Capito’s about-face came one day after President Donald Trump traveled to her home state to give an astonishingly self-serving (even by his standards) speech at a national Boy Scout Jamboree, at which he said she “better” vote for the bill.
Trump’s idea of political persuasiveness was on full display this week as he took to (what else?) Twitter to lambaste his party. “After seven years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate,” ran one representative tweet.
His eagerness to sign a health care bill — any health care bill — is equaled only by his utter lack of interest in the substance of the legislation.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans may now find themselves in the position of the proverbial dog that caught the car fender. They have voted to open debate but it’s still not clear exactly what, specifically, is being debated.
With the health care of anywhere from 15 million to 32 million Americans and roughly one-sixth of the U.S. economy hanging in the balance, a week or two is hardly adequate time to craft responsible legislation.
At least not in the business-as-usual fashion.
Hold out hope, then, that McCain, having rallied after surgery to return to the Capitol, can urge his colleagues to likewise rally — around common sense:
“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act,” he declared. “If this process ends in failure, which seem likely, then let’s return to regular order.”