It was a regular performance by the Republican Congress during the last few years of the Obama administration: repeated votes to repeal Obamacare. Even though they knew that the president would veto any legislation to that effect that was put in front of him, still GOP leaders insisted on going through the show to placate their vocal anti-Obama base.
Then came Donald Trump, the unexpected president, and Republicans were finally given the opportunity to do what they had been promising for over six years. But the bill that was put in front of the House was so draconian that it threatened to leave more Americans uninsured than there were before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Citizens turned out in force to protest the bill, Republicans on both the far right and center-right balked for a variety of reasons, and Trumpcare 1.0 never made it to the floor for a vote. Obamacare repeal seemed to be a dead issue for at least the near term.
But the God-Emperor, desperate to get a "win" of any sort during his first 100 days, pushed Congress to revive the bill. And in an attempt to secure the votes of the hard right "Freedom Caucus," Republicans have put forward Trumpcare 2.0, which is even worse than the original. They succeeded in getting the "Freedom To Die From Lack Of Healthcare Caucus" on board, but they still haven't secured the votes of most of the so-called centrists who are unhappy about the provisions in the new bill that will give states the ability to request an opt-out from the requirement to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
Now the latest act in the opera buffa known as Republican governance is unfolding. GOP moderates in the House who have expressed opposition to the new bill are being told to vote for it, because the Senate will save them.
Talking Points Memo quotes several House members as saying that those who are concerned about the bill should vote to pass it, with the understanding that the Senate would produce a different version that would remove the items they are worried about. Oklahoma's Tom Cole, the vice chair of the House Rules Committee, had this to say:
"I tell people not to get too worked up. If we do get it out of here, it’s going to the United States Senate, so don’t think it’s coming back here looking like it did when we sent it over. I think people sweat these details way too much at this stage in the game."
But that notion didn't sit well with Freedom Caucus member David Brat, who told reporters,
"They better not change it one iota. If they change it, you’re not going to have 218 [votes]."
This entire affair is shaping up to be the Republican version of the "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it" misquote that brought down mocking derision from the right on Nancy Pelosi a few years ago.
In one sense it would be wise for House GOP moderates to take Cole's advice. Send the bill to the Senate, where it would be filibustered by Democrats, allowing Trump and his allies in Congress to play the "obstruction" card. It isn't likely that Senate leader Mitch McConnell would move to change the filibuster rules for legislation in order to get it passed, because there are some Republican Senators who are no more thrilled about the bill than are their House counterparts.
But many House Republicans who represent swing districts understand something that their more rabid colleagues don't appear to appreciate: there are 23 of them who managed to get elected in districts won by Hillary Clinton. And most of them realize that attaching their name to an "aye" vote on Trumpcare could mean that voters angry over the loss of health insurance would show them the door in 2018. The GOP majority in the House seems large at 238-193. But if Democrats could flip those 23 districts, they would have a good chance to wind up in control after the mid-term elections.
The effort to repeal Obamacare would be laughable if it wasn't so damned serious for so many Americans. Republicans could have their way in Washington, given their control of Congress and the White House. Democratic objections to anything could be swept aside by changing the filibuster rules for legislation in the Senate. But the GOP caucus in the House is so deeply dysfunctional that they can't even get their own party on board to pass a bill in a body where Democrats really have no say at all. And it's that dysfunction that looks like it may be the savior of Obamacare.