John McCain: Obamacare Savior

Posted: Sep 24, 2017 9:01 AM

It was deja vu all over again.  With Senate Republicans inching closer to passing an Obamacare replacement bill, a potential fulfillment of seven years of campaign promises, Arizona Senator John McCain once again intervened to save the failing law.  He dramatically cast the deciding vote to kill a drastically pared-down "skinny repeal" bill over the summer, then reprised the spoiler role on Friday afternoon by announcing his opposition to legislation championed by his close friend and ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham.  Between McCain's statement and Rand Paul's unconvincing 'purity' posture, Mitch McConnell can't afford to lose a single additional member of his caucus.  The truth is, he already has.  Anyone who's followed Susan Collins' record on this issue knows that Graham-Cassidy is dead.  She's technically only "leaning" no, but that's tantamount to a hard no; I'm fairly certain she'd vote against her own Obamacare replacement plan at this point.  In revealing his intention to torpedo the latest bill -- with just days remaining before the GOP's reconciliation authority expires, according to the Senate Parliamentarian -- McCain used process concerns as his primary fig leaf:

As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority. I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process...We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009...I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried.

In what way is working with Democrats, who are either staunch Obamacare defenders or already moving on to an even bigger government power-grab, likely make healthcare reform better?  Like Rand Paul's weak excuse for opposing Graham-Cassidy (given his vote in favor of skinny repeal, which did far less to uproot Obamacare), McCain's justification makes little sense.  Part of his Hamlet act on the previous Senate repeal bill (BCRA) was an insistence that he couldn't approve a plan that didn't have the full backing of his state's governor, Doug Ducey.  "My position on this proposal will be largely guided by Governor Ducey's analysis of how it would impact the people of our state," McCain claimed at the time. "My friends, this is legislation that directly affects the people of my state. I trust my governor."  Ducey had raised objections to the BCRA, publicly stating that he agreed with McCain that it was fatally flawed.  While the governor eventually cleared McCain to back "skinny repeal" as a means to advancing the process to a conference committee, his concerns about the legislation's underlying content made McCain's 'no' vote easier.  But guess who explicitly supported the passage of Graham-Cassidy this time?  Governor Doug Ducey.  Apparently "trusting his governor" no longer mattered to McCain.  And then there's this:

Indeed, McCain told the Washington Post just a few weeks ago that he supported the Graham-Cassidy framework -- but wanted to (ahem) check with Ducey about its implications for Arizona before making any commitments.  As for "regular order," that was a speed bump, but not an brick wall: “If it's not [done] through regular order, then it’s a mistake. But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t vote for it," he said.  But then Ducey gave him a green light, so regular order suddenly became paramount again.  A cynic might be forgiven for suspecting that McCain's anti-repeal rationale has always been a moving target, by design.  If McCain was resolved to protect the collapsing domestic legacy of the man who defeated him in 2008 by personally defeating any alternatives, he should have told voters as much when he ran for re-election last year.  But thats not what he did.  He campaigned in his primary and general election races as a conservative committed to repeal, and he won.  Back in July, after he strangled "skinny repeal," I highlighted this television ad he personally approved and ran in 2016.  It merits another look today:

That wasn't just a one-off spot, either.  It was a central element of his campaign:

McCain rightly and ruthlessly blasted his Democratic opponent as a supporter of a law that was inflicting disproportionate harm on Arizonans.  Then he proceeded to vote exactly as she would have.  The Senator's new position is that a bipartisan "fix" is in order.  How would his campaign have gone if he'd told voters, "by 'we must repeal and replace Obamacare,' what I really mean is, 'we must work with Patty Murray and the Democrats to tweak Obamacare after promising to abandon repeal'"?  Perhaps he'd be former Senator John McCain, no longer in a position to be hailed as a "hero" by the exact same people who passionately opposed and slandered him during his presidential run, and who would have called him every name under the sun if he'd reached a different conclusion about a bill written and sponsored by his best friend in Congress.  I'll leave you with some journalists wondering if Graham-Cassidy may still have a glimmer of life:

It may be unwise to discount any possibility in Washington these days, but I don't buy this speculation for a moment.  McCain, Murkowski and Collins couldn't even vote for skinny repeal, which did precious little, and was specifically framed as a vehicle to keep the process alive.  They're not voting for Graham-Cassidy, and Rand Paul's incoherence is just another nail in the coffin.  That's great news for Democrats and those Americans who've benefited from Obamacare.  But it's another dark day for the millions being actively harmed by the promise-shattering, failing law.  As I concluded over the summer, the "best" we can hope for now is a cross-aisle insurer bailout in exchange for some modest regulatory and mandate reforms.  Meanwhile, the demagogues who insist that Obamacare's victims are liars and hacks who need to suck it up and pipe down will inevitably start citing Obamacare's failures as the impetus for imposing the disaster that is single-payer healthcare.  Hell, Bernie Sanders is already there:

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