House leadership is projecting confidence as it whips votes, and the House Freedom Caucus opted against a hard, unified "no" stance. That's the good news for President Trump and Speaker Ryan. The bad news? Some HFC members are also telling reporters that they've got 25 nays lined up, which would be enough to link up with lockstep Democrats to kill the bill and keep Obamacare in place. As the man says, someone's bluffing. Allying with Nancy Pelosi to protect Obamacare obviously is not the intention of anti-AHCA conservatives, but that would be the practical impact -- a point President Trump and Speaker Ryan have each made. So with the self-imposed clock ticking down toward tomorrow's announced floor vote, will the White House and House leadership get this legislation (in its initial form, at least) over the finish line? It may be a real squeaker. How firm are those nays? If one Trump-allied Congressman is right, not very. Or at least the tally is malleable:
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) predicts AHCA passes the House by ONE VOTE.— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 21, 2017
Why? He says enough Republicans are a "no, but yes if you need me." pic.twitter.com/OL57QN9IVj
Complicating matters are anti-endorsements from a number of conservative outside groups, including the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity. Now sprinkle in stated opposition from three conservative Senators, with Utah's Mike Lee and Arkansas' Tom Cotton making it official yesterday, and the picture gets even messier. Will grassroots groups have more sway over rank-and-file members than the combined efforts leadership and a heavily engaged president, who views this vote as a reflection on him? And a trio of GOP Senators nixing the bill would effectively seal its fate because Mitch McConnell has a maximum of two votes to spare. For his part, McConnell is already positioning a vote against the AHCA as a vote for Obamacare, with one key caveat:
McConnell warned fellow Republicans of political consequences if they oppose the GOP health care legislation coming up for a vote in the House this week. "I would hate to be a Republican whose vote prevented us from keeping the commitment we've made to the American people for almost 10 years now" to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law, the Kentucky Republican told AP reporters and editors. "I think the American people would be deeply disappointed that we were prevented from keeping our commitment by Republicans who in the end, in effect, voted for the status quo." McConnell sounded confident that the bill will pass the House and come over to the Senate, where it is currently short of votes. He made clear the legislation will be changed in the Senate so it can pass, though he declined to predict what the final product will look like or guarantee ultimate success. He indicated he expects Trump, who was on Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby reluctant House members, to lean on wavering Senate Republicans and bring them in line.
Everyone, McConnell especially, expects that any bill that ends up getting a vote in the full Senate will look different than whatever the House plops on its doorstep, assuming Trump and Ryan nail down 216 votes (two shy of the usual 218 due to vacancies). So it's relatively easy for the Lees, Pauls and Cottons of the world to line up and rhetorically oppose something that they'll never directly vote on. The bigger question is whether they'd remain nays after the Senate has gone through its amendment process. If so, the process grinds to a halt and Obamacare prevails, harming millions in the process. As someone who is well aware of the bill's shortcomings and who hopes to see continued improvements, the question I would have for the Tea Party's de facto Obamacare frenemies is whether there is a superior alternative with a genuine chance of passage. Governing isn't about hypotheticals and ideas; it's ultimately about results. Moderates in the House and Senate won't agree to a bill that many of them already worry is too stingy, and Trump has vowed to veto a "clean repeal" that doesn't replace the collapsing, outgoing system. If the alternatives are (a) Obamacare Heavy's continued harmful existence or (b) an imperfect Obamacare Lite-type roll back with at least some positive conservative attributes, how can center-right lawmakers justify choosing the first option?
Their argument might be, "well, Obamacare will collapse, and then when it does, we'll have an ability to pass a more free market solution." First of all, that's not responsible governance. Telling the Americans who are hurting under the law that you need things to keep getting worse for them after eight years of promises is indefensible. Plus, there is no fixed timetable on when the law would have sufficiently imploded (it's clearly well on its way) as to usher in this supposed magical opportunity to pass a magical plan. And there's also no guarantee that Republicans would still control the levers of power when that moment arrives. In fact, given the recent and frequent pendulum swings in American politics, there's a decent chance that Democrats could be back in charge. How would they see fit to "fix" the Obamacare mess they created? The answer is not a mystery.
If some additional adjustments and improvements are made, many conservatives would interpret any GOP vote to jettison the only politically-viable Obamacare replacement as a hugely counter-productive instance of making the (unattainable) perfect the enemy of the better. And even if no-voting members want to make the case that GOPCare wouldn't be better than Obamacare (really? Medicaid reform, fewer taxes, and fewer mandates), so they don't want to "own" its results, how would they suggest the party "own" campaigning against a terrible law for four elections, then failing to actually do anything about it when given the rare opportunity of unified governance? You'd better believe these arguments are being deployed in advance of tomorrow's expected floor vote on the House side. If Rep. Collins' assessment above is even close to accurate, it could be a real nail-biter. I'll leave you with Paul Ryan telling Sean Hannity that he feels "very good" about the vote count, which he said before Trump's Tuesday morning hard sell on the Hill. We'll know soon enough: