GOP Agenda Is In Tatters As Trumpcare Collapses

With the announcement that both Mike Lee and Jerry Moran will oppose the motion to proceed, joining both Susan Collins and Rand Paul, it appears that the Senate version of Trumpcare, the BCRA, is dead for at least the moment. In addition, there were clearly probably another dozen GOP Senators who had major reservations about the bill but did not want to risk the wrath of the right by being the final vote necessary to kill the bill. Lee and Moran got around that problem by announcing together, much to the probable relief of their GOP Senate colleagues as well as a host of Republicans in the House.

Trumpcare is a zombie, coming back to life every time it seems to be dead and buried. And within minutes, Trump and McConnell both put out the latest zombie revision, a complete repeal of Obamacare with a two year delay. A total repeal would require 60 votes so this new bill would be similar to what the Senate passed in 2015 under reconciliation and with the full knowledge that Obama would veto it. It is hard to see how this bill would be any better for the moderates who opposed Trumpcare but may have not been willing to openly oppose it. Premiums will immediately spike because the mandate will be repealed or not enforced, insurers will opt out of the market immediately knowing that the exchanges will die, and Medicaid expansion would still be rolled back as states face reduced Medicaid funding in 2019. In fact, it is probable that the coverage losses in the short term may actually be worse than the current bill. And Republicans would be totally on the hook for the outrage among all those who lose or can’t afford coverage when next fall’s election rolls around as they promise to do something about healthcare that they were unable to do today.

The Republicans have really done something amazing. By trying to use Trumpcare to gut the safety net and pay for massive tax cuts for the rich, Republicans have focused the country on how much Obamcare actually accomplished in a way that Democrats were neither willing nor able to accomplish. Now that they have turned the ACA into a popular program, their latest plan is to simply repeal it and promise to do something better in the future. Simply incredible. But, assuming Trumpcare is dead for the immediate future, its failure has put even more pressure on the GOP agenda which was already in difficult shape to begin with. Tax reform relied not only on the tax cuts included in Trumpcare but more importantly on the lower spending baseline created by gutting Medicaid so that the tax cuts would not increase the deficit beyond the 10 year window and allow the bill to be passed under reconciliation. And that assumes the GOP can even agree on what will be in the tax cuts and how, or even if, they will be “paid for”.

According to Axios, there is a plan for selling tax “reform” to the American people already laid out. There is, however, no actual tax plan even on the table right now. The process resembles selling condo units in a building not only before it has been built but also before the financing is in place. Instead, the White House intends “to float a few tax policy trial balloons in August.” Once again, it appears that the particulars of what is being considered is being debated primarily in secret with Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Kevin Brady, Sens. Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn involved. This sounds like it will probably work out just as well as the Senate’s secret version of Trumpcare.

The particulars of tax plan not only relied on passing Trumpcare but will also be inextricably linked up with the next year’s budget. Both Trumpcare and tax reform will impact next year’s budget baselines so the GOP is trying to build a budget while dealing with a host of unknowns. Considering the Republicans had control of the House and the Senate last year and were unable to complete a budget, it is hard to see how they are going to reach some easy agreement this year. As budget expert Molly Reynolds puts it, “The Republicans just don’t quite agree on what they want to do. They don’t agree on how much they want to spend, and they don’t agree on what they want the reconciliation instructions to look like.” Just in the last few hours, the conservative Freedom Caucus has announced their opposition to the budget deal that is trying to at least make its way through the House.

In the midst of all this chaos are two other potential looming disasters, the expiration of government funding and the breaching of the debt ceiling. Once again, there is considerable disagreement within the Republican caucus on both these issues and the GOP will again need Democratic votes to move on both these issues. As the Hill story indicates, the calendar seems to be shaping up for an enormous deal to emerge sometime in late September/early October that will wrap a budget deal and raise the debt ceiling into one package, with Democrats holding significant sway in determining the details of that agreement. Needless to say, this is exactly the kind of situation that the hard right will consider entirely objectionable, showing once again the cowardice of the Republican leadership in Congress and leading to a further fracturing of the Republican party.

It is also hard to imagine that, in the midst of all this, Republicans are going to find it political palatable to sit down and negotiate details on a bipartisan health care solution. Nor is there any reason for Democrats to engage in serious negotiations at this point anyway as it will only provide cover to the GOP on the issue. And never forget that while all this is going on, there is almost guaranteed to be more revelations about Trump’s collusion with Russia during last year’s election in addition to the usual chaos that Trump creates.

It is entirely possible that we could be well into November and the only thing the GOP will have passed with full control of Congress is a budget deal that largely protects Democratic priorities. There would be no repeal Obamacare, no tax “reform”, no giveaways to corporations under a public-private infrastructure plan. In other words, a complete failure of the GOP agenda.

That does not mean Republicans won’t keep trying. As with see with Trumpcare, there is no Republican agenda item that really dies. It just keeps continually coming back in slightly different forms again and again. And there will still be another year before the 2018 election for the GOP to get its act together and do some real damage.

Originally published at on July 18, 2017.

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