Is there any health-care bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not pass at this point?
What would have to be in the text for him to say no to any prospective piece of legislation that he thinks could get 50 Republican votes and be sold to donors as a repeal of the Affordable Care Act? A ban on fracking? Hard limits on contributions to super PACs? As his Spiderman-esque speech on Tuesday afternoon about the awesome powers and grave responsibilities that have fallen to his party following the election of President Trump made clear, McConnell has exactly one principle guiding him in the drafting of health-care legislation: the ability to say that whatever makes it out of the Senate and onto the president's desk is not ObamaCare.
If that's what he cares about, he's going to end up falling on his sword at some point. As John Boehner, his former counterpart in the House of Representatives said recently, there is simply no way the ACA is ever going to be repealed. It has been in place for too long, and the most popular part of it, the expansion of Medicaid, has simply done too much good, especially in places like Detroit, where the rate of people without health coverage of any kind has dropped from nearly a quarter to 7 percent in the last few years. Maybe the individual mandate will go formally, but it's already not being enforced.
So the fact that McConnell on Tuesday got 50 votes for the motion to proceed to debate on whatever is in the bill means nothing. Even making this limited procedural step was a near-run thing, coming down to a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. Ultimately the only reason it passed was so that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) could give a vain, self-serving, feel-good speech about the virtues of bipartisanship and regular order rules and the high and noble calling of the United States Senate. McCain himself seemed to hint that he would not vote for any bill that did not have the approval of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who supports the expansion of Medicaid. Then there is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), all but left for dead by his party during his re-election bid last fall, who only voted yes after a lengthy conference with leadership in which he seemed all but forced to give his assent directly after McCain waltzed in to the applause he so obviously craves. Nevermind Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Alaska), who have made it clear that nothing considered by their party in either the House or the Senate so far is deserving of their support. Nor is there any guarantee that following concessions to these four McConnell will not face defections from Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) or Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
And indeed, just hours after the motion to proceed passed on Tuesday, the Senate's plan to actually repeal and replace ObamaCare managed to scrape together a measly 43 GOP votes. McConnell will keep trying with other repeal bills, but the prospects are dim.
Meanwhile, all of us are wondering what exactly is going to be debated the rest of the week. For all we know the present version of the bill about to come under the consideration of the world's greatest deliberative body contains nothing but the full text of Moby-Dick or McConnell's personal mint julep recipe or an aborted list of words that rhyme with "orange."
To be honest, this might be the best possible scenario, especially if it passes.
Think about it: The Affordable Care Act, with all its pluses and minuses, remains in place, while, in exchange for a lengthy series of public pouting sessions in which members of Democratic leadership pretend that the most brutal, draconian, money-saving bill in the history of this country has been passed by crafty principled conservatives, Republicans agree to do nothing on health care for the next three or so years. They can tell their constituents that they have repealed and replaced every last word of ObamaCare — nobody will know any better. People in Detroit will still get the coverage they need, and McConnell and his party will be able to move on to another absurd promise — like privatizing the VA.
Just lie, guys. It will be a win for everybody.