It’s been a heck of a week in D.C. On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate held a high-drama, high-stakes vote to move on a proposal to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That kicked off a frankly bonkers week of politics and politicking, with debate — and Senators’ support — all over the map. In the wee small hours of Friday morning, that effort finally shambled to a halt, fatally collapsing on itself. But is this actually the end of Congressional efforts to undo the ACA?
In many ways, covering or reading about D.C. right now calls to mind a monster B-movie. At the end, the vampire gets a wooden stake through its heart and falls into its casket. The lid falls down dramatically, the credits roll, and you know that the monster will remain out of the picture — until the inevitable Return of… film a couple of years later.
That shambling, undead interpretation of this particular initiative is as good an analogy of any other. In more literal terms, here’s where it stands.
Okay, what actually happened?
This all kicked into high gear on Tuesday, July 25, when the Senate narrowly voted, 51-50, to open debate on a healthcare bill.
That bill was the House’s American Health Care Act, but it was used effectively as a placeholder text while the Senate crafted its own plan to repeal and/or replace the ACA.
The rules the Senate was operating under set a 20-hour clock ticking as soon as the Tuesday vote was finished, and so Senators lined up a number of potential alternative bills to see who could agree on what during that debate window.
The first Senate alternative to come to a vote was effectively the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — the bill that was basically deemed too dead to vote on merely a week earlier. It did indeed fail on Tuesday, 43-57.
On Wednesday, the Senate then moved on to its next option, which was functionally the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) — a straight “repeal” plan. That, too, failed to advance, only securing 45 of the necessary 51 votes.
By Thursday, the time crunch was on. One Senator proposed an amendment that would basically create a national single-payer option, expanding Medicaid universally; the Senate immediately voted that down, 57-0.
That led us to the so-called “skinny repeal,” a slapdash effort that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shopped around on Thursday in a final effort to gain the support of at least 50 Republican senators.
So this actual attempt is for-really dead?
This week’s effort is done, toast, kaput, pining for the fjords, ringing down the curtain, joining the choir invisible, d-e-a-d dead.
Nothing was resolved during the allotted 20 hours of debate allowed or mandated by the procedure they were using, and so now Senate business has to move on to something else.
But while this particular effort is over, there is absolutely nothing saying McConnell can’t try again with another bill. He, or another member of the Senate, can introduce a bill do to basically anything at any time, and it could be nearly verbatim to any of the ones that the Senate tried and failed to move through this week.
How likely are they to try again, though?
McConnell absolutely can try again. Whether or not he wants to, though, is an entirely different issue.
Passing a proper bill, without using budget reconciliation tactics, will require 60 Senators to come on board in order to be filibuster-proof and get past procedural thresholds. In the sharply split Senate we currently have, no repeal bill is going to get that far.
Reconciliation tactics, though, only require a simple 51-vote majority to succeed. But using reconciliation to squeeze something through has now proven challenging, to say the least.
While Republican members of Congress have been vowing to “repeal and replace Obamacare” for years, the reality is that they don’t agree on how or why. All through the whole long saga, Senate Republicans were fractured into a couple of different camps.
One camp, the more conservative, wanted to flat-out fully repeal the ACA and everything in it. As they worked toward a middle ground, the hardliners who wanted a repeal objected to the middle ground more and more.
Meanwhile the other camp, considered more moderate, wanted to preserve more Americans’ coverage and especially prevent Medicaid from suffering deep cuts. As proposal after proposal failed to meet their standards, they held the ground on their objection.
Reconciling “this goes too far” with “this doesn’t go far enough” is an uphill battle at best — and that key split in ideology and desired outcome still remains.
In remarks on the Senate floor after the vote failed, McConnell seemed willing to throw in the towel on that particular fight for now, saying, “it’s time to move on.”
But in 2017’s politics, you never know.
Aside from healthcare, though, we’re now six months into a new administration — one that is politically aligned with both chambers of Congress, and yet has no major policy wins to show.
Members of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives — which narrowly passed its repeal and replace resolution in May — are unhappy with the Senate’s failure to do the same, Politico reports, with the far-right Freedom Caucus is particularly displeased.
“If they’re going to quit, well then by God, maybe they ought to start at the top with Mitch McConnell leaving his position and letting somebody new, somebody bold, somebody conservative take the reins,” Rep. Mo Brooks (AL) , told CNN on Friday.
Other House Freedom Caucus members were more optimistic, with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan telling Fox News that they were “staying in” and ready to try again, with “a little bit of a shift” in approach.
It is, in short, a giant question mark. With some members of Congress wanting to double down, and leadership clearly wanting to move on to other priority items on the party’s agenda, all that we can really guess for sure is that this was not going to be the last high-drama week of the year for Congress.