Trump’s follies distract while Mitch McConnell brews healthcare poison

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Mitch McConnell has never let concerns about hypocrisy get in the way of advancing his legislative agenda. Now, while the media and American citizens are fixated on each daily warp of the soap operatic presidency of Donald Trump, McConnell has huddled behind locked doors with his Republican loyalists and favored lobbyists to assemble a healthcare scheme that will disassemble Obamacare.

There are no public hearings scheduled; no engagement with any Democrats; no amendments allowed; no light of day to shine on the shadowy sausage-makers who want to give a huge tax cut to the wealthy by taking away healthcare from millions of Americans. McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, just wants to get a bill to the floor as expeditiously as possible and get it passed quickly before more than a handful of people get a chance to look at it.

Here’s where the hypocrisy rears its homely head: When Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — back in 2010, Republicans screamed that the bill had been rammed through without careful analysis and with no participation from Republicans. Actually, that was not especially true. Compared with the GOP Senate’s current secret legislative process, what Democrats did back in 2009 and 2010 looks like pure Athenian democracy. The Senate alone held 58 hearings on the ACA over a year of public consideration. Republicans were not part of the process because they refused to take part.


Nevertheless, Republicans beat Democrats over the head with all kinds of distortions (“We were railroaded!”) and fibs (“Death panels!”) about Obamacare. That line of attack helped them win control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election and they have held power on Capitol Hill ever since.

On Tuesday, Trump met with Senate Republicans to chat about their shadowy healthcare plan and, unsurprisingly, came out of the meeting saying, “The results are going to be fantastic.” Curiously, Trump called the House Republican version of the healthcare legislation “mean” and urged the senators to be more generous. Passage of that House bill, one will recall, was celebrated in the White House Rose Garden by the entire House GOP caucus. The white men in suits cheered while Trump spoke as if they had just written the Magna Carta. He did not think it was so mean then.

But that was way back in May and Trump, who specializes in meaningless shilling, quickly moves on to the next sales pitch. In June, Trump has decided the House bill he loved so much is mean and the secret Senate bill is fantastic. It goes without saying that he grasps as few of the details about this bill as he did about the last one. Trump is a veteran salesman who has proved he has no need to understand anything about the product he is selling.

The quandary facing Trump and the Republicans is that Obamacare, with all of its flaws, is vastly more popular than Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s cruel healthcare concoction. Ryan’s so-called American Health Care Act — which Trump is now treating like an ugly orphan — is looked upon favorably by a mere 1 in 5 voters, according to polls, while Obamacare now is popular with more than 60% of Americans.

McConnell gets this more than anyone. He gets that healthcare could become the albatross around Republican necks in the 2018 election that it was for Democrats in 2010. He also gets that too much generosity in the Senate revision of the healthcare bill will drive away the hard-liners in his caucus and he will not have the votes to get it passed. As a result, expect the Senate’s secret bill to be only a cosmetic deviation from what was brewed up by Ryan and company.

The least awful outcome for McConnell might be to accept an embarrassing defeat when his healthcare bill finally emerges from the darkness. Such a failure would not get him a party on the White House lawn, but he and his colleagues could head home to their summer recess and tell constituents that, gosh darn it, they would have killed Obamacare if those pesky Democrats had not obstructed them.


That would be an easier message to deliver than this one: We just passed another nasty healthcare bill that most Americans hate.

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