Up first, a key nugget of news: Now that the Trump/Ryan healthcare bill narrowly cleared another hurdle in the budget committee this week (more on that in a moment), it has been sent over to the rules committee -- the final stage before a full floor vote. House leadership is apparently sufficiently confident that this final committee obstacle will be overcome that they've slated a floor vote for late next week. As it approaches, expect a furious debate with the Democrats, and an intense whip count effort within the GOP conference to round up the requisite votes for ultimate passage. Here we go:
JUST IN: House Republicans plan to vote on Obamacare replacement bill on Thursday, March 23— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 17, 2017
Will Paul Ryan have the votes? He and his team have repeatedly insisted that this "repeal and replace" roadmap has been charted with major buy-in from the House GOP rank-and-file, who've been kept in the loop every step of the way. But in recent weeks, the party's right flank has blanched at the framework of the legislation (dubbing it "Obamacare-lite" and too generous), while centrists have sounded the alarm over the Congressional Budget Office's score of the bill. Are these differences reconcilable? We'll likely find out in a matter of days. It's worth noting that in this week's budget committee squeaker (19-17 passage), three members of the House Freedom Caucus joined Democrats in voting no, nearly waylaying the process. One additional lost vote, and the American Health Care Act would have been tied up in committee.
As the "repeal and replace" push began in earnest earlier this month, may political observers said that a key factors in the process would be presidential leadership. Despite the problematic (but likely overstated) CBO challenge and other intense pressure points -- and despite theorizing that certain elements within the White House were setting up the House to fail -- President Trump's steadfast support for GOPCare has remained unwavering. Having recently hosted Obamacare victims at the White House, Trump made an additional statement in the Oval Office today, flanked by members who were leaning 'no.' He explained that the failing status quo demonstrates that the current law is "dead," (the latest enrollment numbers are poor, a consequence of unaffordable costs) voicing "100 percent support" for the Republican alternative designed by his HHS Secretary and House leaders. This is a full-throated endorsement:
Trump again repeats the smart talking point that Obamacare is collapsing on its own, but that sitting back and allowing that to happen would be irresponsible governance because people are suffering. This framing reinforces the public's belief that the current law is failing, a reality that even a majority of respondents in this week's brutal Fox News poll agreed with. As for vote-gathering, according to Politico's Tim Alberta, there's a specific strategy afoot:
The strategic aim of Ryan and the WH: isolate the Freedom Caucus as the lone dissenters and dare them to be responsible for repeal failing.— Tim Alberta (@TimAlberta) March 17, 2017
What this suggests to me is that the plan is to muscle the bill through and get it over to the Senate in its current form, at which point amendments will probably make some significant alterations. Trump's campaign posture was vowing as much coverage for as many people as possible, so it would follow that he'd be likely to support changes that make the bill more generous (and expensive) when push comes to shove. As it stands, moderates would likely kill this iteration of the bill, so stand by for changes in the upper chamber. But it also looks like Trump is willing to do the political work of launching a private charm offensive with reluctant conservatives (adopting previously-discussed policy changes in the opposite direction, too, which led to the photo op embedded above), then taking his show on the road -- with a goal of keeping the heat up on Republican members who may be tempted to torpedo his bill. I'll leave you with a clip from Ryan chatting with National Review's Rich Lowry about this process, as well as a surreal quote from Nancy Pelosi attacking Republicans for forcing their members to "walk the plank" in support of a harmful healthcare bill. This coming from a woman who did precisely that, without a public mandate developed over four election cycles, and who proceeded to lose 63 seats in the next election:
"This Speaker has asked his Members to walk the plank on a very bad bill that has damaging consequences across the country that might not even become law. So they walk the plank for nothing except to damage the well-being of their constituents. The American people deserve the facts, and so do the Members deserve the facts before the House acts to destroy affordable health care in our country."
Pelosi continues to labor under the delusion that Obamacare is not 'destroying affordable health care,' and callously ignores the millions being harmed by the unpopular law she rammed through against the will of the people.