Unless something dramatic comes unstuck, none of the big-ticket must-pass bills are going to survive the poisonous political climate in Washington, and voters of all stripes hate Congress with a merry passion. “Alexa, order pitchforks and torches.”
Despite Republicans promises to kill off Obamacare, no one in the GOP is going away happy. The infrastructure bill is ten miles in the rearview mirror down a bumpy, potholed road. Big tax cuts are an illusion. When it comes to something Congress could to do make America more secure, Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership are doing everything they can to kill off the Russia sanctions bill that the Senate passed 97-2.
Worse still, the House and Senate drama caucuses are about to have their favorite moment of chest-beating right as Congress debates the next raising of the debt-ceiling limit. They’ll screech and scream and rend their garments but in the end, the debt ceiling will be raised, nothing will be done, and they’ll all smugly assure their constituents that next time they’ll stop that big-spending gubbmint, pinkie-swear.
The constituents at Congressional town hall meetings are furious and scared, and deeply sick of the clown show that comprises our national political life today. Trump voters hate the GOP both for not suitably immolating themselves and for failing to show the Donald suitable obeisance. Democrats are in a red-hot fury. Independent voters are increasingly polling much like Democrats, a troubling sign of things to come. It’s why many members of my party have taken to either hiding or running controlled-access “tele-townhalls” where they screen every question and duck the anger.
A lot of the anger and distress stems from the constant irritations of a Trump reality-tv Presidency, but in many ways, my party has no one to blame but itself. Republicans had seven years not just to come up with a policy alternative to Obamacare, but even more damning, they had seven years to plan the public relations and communications plan for its repeal.
It’s pretty obvious by now that neither plan was ever in place, an act of political malpractice that makes me conclude that my party is missing some of the core competencies. Instead of having a plan, the House gurgled and groaned and then vomited out a bill so odiously unpopular and politically poisonous that even Donald Trump bashed it as “mean.” It’s not a defense of Obamacare to remind leadership that we had seven years to be ready for this fight. Seven years that went by without even the barest framework to read and then shape the public perception of the most fraught, emotionally and intensely personal policy battle of all time.
The lobbyists for insurance, hospitals, and pharma were all in the room for the Senate bill’s crafting, but it’s clear that they view the Republicans of today as they did the Democrats in 2010: disposable. Senators who were kept in the dark on a bill so rank with crony capitalist protections carried over from Obamacare and so plainly a P.R. disaster could hardly be expected to become vocal cheerleaders for it.
Despite its magical-thinking cost accounting, premium hikes and ludicrous deductibles, its costly expansion of Medicaid in the states, collapsing markets and its infelicitous nickname, Obamacare had a few sales pitch nuggets that were wildly popular across the political spectrum, particularly coverage for pre-existing conditions. So of course, the GOP picked the few elements people loved to highlight how much this hold-my-beer plan failed to gauge the public mood.
The Senate healthcare bill isn’t polling much better, landing at 12 percent right now, which puts it roughly at the same approval level as child predators, herpes, and Nickelback. Sticking your hand in a blender is more popular. The GS-5 job of “Donald Trump Wig-Fitter” is more popular. Even the snakebit, wildly incompetent Democratic Party is wondering, “What did we do to get THIS political gift?”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s earnest signaling this week that he’s having trouble landing the GOP holdouts for a repeal of Obamacare should send up real alarms signals inside the party. It isn’t simply that McConnell, the most gifted legislative player since LBJ, hasn’t been able to wrangle the votes. It’s that he knows how deeply unpopular this repeal has become with the American people.
Another thing lost in the noise and static of the Obamacare fight and the G20 summit affected Republican Senators more than they’re discussing publicly. In order to pressure Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada for daring to put his political survival above Donald Trump’s desire to put a win on Obamacare—any kind of win—on the scoreboard, Trump’s pet SuperPAC promised a million-plus dollar negative ad campaign against the Nevada Senator. This is an unforgivable political transgression.
Despite being a man who has rarely shown an iota of loyalty to anyone—including his wives, business partners, vendors, contractors, and campaign staff—Trump has still received practically unquestioning obedience from members of the House and Senate. No matter his apostasies to conservatism, no matter the political damage following his lead would almost inevitably incur, the Lemming Caucus still had more members than either common sense or political survival instincts would indicate.
The line that was crossed with Heller wasn’t just the usual partisan scrapping. It was a sign to even the slowest Senators that Trump not only can but almost inevitably, will, betray them. Trump hurt McConnell’s ability to move his caucus forward on repeal, and his manic tweeting since then hasn’t helped the case.
Trump’s disinterest in the actual legislative process is clear; he lacks the intellectual and policy chops to deal with anything more complex than 140 character Tourettic bursts. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan actually know know their business when it come to running the Senate and the House. If only they had a competent partner at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.