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Analysis: On Obamacare, Democrats Don't Get to Rewrite History on Responsible Governance

Democrats and liberals are incensed that Senate Republicans are aiming to vote on an Obamacare replacement  package prior to the July 4th recess.  They argue that the process thus far has been exceedingly opaque, with a small working group of Senators crafting legislation behind closed doors, with the contents of the new bill shrouded in mystery.  GOP leadership is reportedly planning to bring the resulting product to the floor for a vote without any substantive mark-up process in committee, as would be expected under regular order. This is a strikingly closed and insular method of rolling out a proposed law that would impact one-sixth of the US economy, critics lament.  They have a point.

During the Obamacare passage saga, which spanned nine months over two calendar years, various iterations of the legislation snaked through committees and negotiations on both ends of Capitol Hill.  Eventually, each Democrat-controlled chamber of Congress passed their own versions of healthcare reform, with the House finally agreeing to the Senate-passed bill -- followed by a very unusual move in which both chambers immediately made changes to the new law using a budgetary maneuver known as "reconciliation."  The overall bill was unpopular with the public, yet Democrats took advantage of their large majorities (including, for months, a 60-vote, filibuster-proof Senate advantage) to scrape together the requisite votes to muscle through final passage.  

By comparison, if Republicans do in fact hold a vote on a replacement bill by the end of next week, they will have proceeded at warp speed.  I can appreciate Mitch McConnell and company wanting to hash out their differences in private, denying opponents the opportunity to exploit internal disagreements or latch onto provisions that may or may not even make it into the final legislative language -- especially given how dishonest many of them have been about the House-passed bill.  Plus, unlike Harry Reid in 2009 and 2010, McConnell has very little margin for error when it comes to arriving at 50-plus-one votes.  Better to get important ducks in a row before the chaos begins. Understandable.

Also, some of the attacks against the GOP-led process are overblown: The bill will not simply be voted upon with no warning, no debate, and no amendments.  In fact, because Republicans plan to turn Senate Democrats' Obamacare move against them in order to avoid the 60-vote threshold, reconciliation rules require the consideration of unlimited germane amendments.  So a big, loud, protracted, emotional debate is coming.  It's nevertheless true that this whole episode could play out on an extremely compressed timetable, raising legitimate questions about whether this is how any legislation -- let alone highly consequential legislation -- ought to be introduced and adopted. All that being said, it's a bit much to watch members of the media and Democratic politicians hold up the Obamacare passage journey as some paragon of transparency and good governance.  A few reality checks:


(1) Democrats marketed Obamacare with several gargantuan lies, the biggest of which is advertised in their own preferred shorthand for the law: The "Affordable" Care Act.  Premiums and out-of-pocket costs have soared under Obamacare, and are getting worse.  Team Obama and their allies also issued unequivocal promises that any consumer who was satisfied with his or her existing arrangements could keep what they liked.  This ended up being tagged as left-leaning Politifact's 'lie of the year' once implementation exposed the egregious falsehood, which betrayed millions of Americans.  Other vows and assurances on cost curves, access to care, reduced "uncompensated care," and the price tag of Obamacare's vast expansion of already-struggling Medicaid have similarly gone down the tubes.

(2) In order to nail down the votes they needed, Democratic leaders and the White House handed out a string of legislative goodies (and bogus promises) to recalcitrant Democrats, from the "Cornhusker Kickback" to the "Louisiana Purchase" to "Gatorade."  Republicans objected to these machinations, calling them secretive and ethically-suspect.  Some of those tweets and video clips are being used against them today, some representing pretty clean political hits.  But highlighting those complaints is a double-edged sword for the Left; yes, it underscores GOP opportunism and hypocrisy, but it also reminds people that Democrats did use a litany of shady tactics of their own in dragging Obamacare across the finish line without a single Republican vote.


(3) In the clip below, conservative CNN contributor Mary Katharine Ham reminds the journalists on an Inside Politics panel that a big reason Republicans can use the accelerated, filibuster-evading "reconciliation" gambit to uproot much of the failing existing law is that Democrats laid the groundwork for them to do so back in March of 2010:  

Recall that Democrats chose not to ping the legislation back and forth any further -- or go to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills -- because by that point, they'd lost their filibuster-proof majority.  In dramatic fashion.  The people of Massachusetts elected a Republican, Scott Brown, to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate, expressly to kill the bill.  Rather than heed the people's abundantly clear will after that political lightning bolt of a wake-up call, Democrats turned to reconciliation to bypass the voter-imposed obstacle Brown embodied.  A few months later, the American people made their point even more loudly, sending an astounding 63 House Democrats into early retirement.  Democrats reacted to this, and subsequent unmistakable rebukes by hubristically doubling-down in their support for an imploding law, shamelessly blaming others and blindly insisting that Obamacare is working.  It's not, and its deterioration continues apace.  The latest:


Republicans may indeed face a backlash of their own for jamming through an unpopular healthcare bill after relatively little public scrutiny (although Senate passage would not conclude the process; a treacherous path would still stretch ahead in the House).  If they implement a law that does not improve people's lives, or makes things worse, they'll risk an Obamacare-style beating at the polls.  But forgive me for refusing to accept lectures on proper procedure and best practices from the very people who lied, cajoled, and arm-twisted us into Obamacare, and still defend their disastrous handiwork to this very day.

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