On July 18, Senator McCain, returning to Washington for the first time since the revelation of a devastating medical diagnosis, cast the decisive vote allowing the Republican leadership in the Senate to clear a procedural hurdle and begin debate on several versions of health care reform.
In the three days that followed, that leadership proved incapable of putting together a majority for any change at all to the 2010 legislative package known as “Obamacare.” This failure culminated in the early morning of Friday, when the Senate voted 51 to 49 against a last-ditch effort known as “skinny repeal.” It became clear that skinny repeal, like its precursors, (“repeal and repair” and “straight repeal”) had failed to win a majority when Senator McCain gave a thumbs-down signal in the front of the Senate chamber while voting was underway.
The Republican caucus in the Senate consists of 52 votes. It can, even in the face of unified Democratic opposition, pass a bill that requires a mere majority only so long as the leadership loses no more than two votes. Defection of exactly two allows for a tie and a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President, Mike Pence. Throughout the after-midnight session on skinny repeal, it was clear that at least two Republican Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, would vote ‘No.’ Pence was there in the event of a tie. But with McCain’s vote and gesture it became obvious that he, Pence, would not have any tie to break.
Right Wing View
Hours later Avik Roy posted in the National Review website an intelligent discussion, from the conservative perspective, of where the politics of healthcare stands in the United States after these votes. As Roy recounts it, the creation of Obamacare was the consequence of an intra-party compromise on the Democratic side. The “ideological wing” of the Democratic Party would have preferred a single-payer system, the “pragmatists” worked from the premise that the American public wasn’t ready from that. They worked out their difference and voted as one.
To change the law, especially to do so unilaterally, the Republicans have to come to a similar understanding, something that will unite Collins and Murkowski on the one side with Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas on the other.
Ted Cruz himself, though, isn’t in a mood for unity. His immediate response to the failure of skinny repeal was to tell reporters that “a great many Americans,” speaking here of the Republican base, which thirsted for and received repeated promises on the repeal of Obamacare for years, “feel a sense of betrayal” directed at those Republicans who backed away from doing just that. Breitbart was highlighting his words soon after the thumbs-down vote.
Conservatives Republicans on twitter aren’t in a mood for intra-party unity with their moderate counterparts either:
Come on @tedcruz Get together with other Senators and demand McCain step down. May save Republican Senate and congress in elections!
— 🔴🎤🎤Dano📡📡🔴 (@VoiceOverPerson) July 28, 2017
Left Wing View
Julie Rovner, for Salon, also looked in the wake of that climactic vote at the question of how the Republicans failed. She was happy about the fact that they did, whereas Roy and Cruz plainly were not. But she looked at the same vote asking the same question.
Some on the left are happy to celebrate the Republican moderates. Randi Mayem Singer is an example:
Donald Trump prefers soldiers who don’t get caught.
John McCain prefers presidents who don’t get bought. #SkinnyRepeal
— Randi Mayem Singer (@rmayemsinger) July 28, 2017
But more on the left are unhappy with the idea that moderates get to pose as the heroes of the day. In their view, such moderates are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Both Sarah Jones and Clio Chang wrote to this effect in The New Republic soon after the climactic vote. Chang wrote, “The decision to upend millions of people’ lives should not have rested on the norm-upholding whims of a guy with a brain tumor.”
Former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted before the vote that “Republicans are about to vote to let 20,000 Americans die without health insurance.” After the vote, he tweeted that “the American people” had won the victory.
Thank you to everyone across the country who stood up and fought back. Tonight was a victory for the American people.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 28, 2017
From the White House
President Trump, oddly, seems to have drawn the conclusion that he lost to a filibuster.
If Republicans are going to pass great future legislation in the Senate, they must immediately go to a 51 vote majority, not senseless 60…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
He tweeted that the Senate must “go to a 51 vote majority” and not require 60 votes.
But of course he didn’t lose to a filibuster. He didn’t lose because he failed to get 60 votes. He lost because he and the Republican leadership were collectively incapable of putting together 51 votes, or even 50 votes, on a particular Obamacare repeal bill.
Perhaps the most sensible comment on the reasons for the latest development comes from Jeffrey Frankel, a professor of capital formation and growth at Harvard University. The problem dates he says to the Obama period, when the Republicans were in opposition. “[T]he striking fact remains,” he has written, “that Republicans never bothered to try to formulate an alternative in the event that one of their own would one day become President.”