The Senate Health-Care Vote and John McCain’s Tragic Contradictions

July 27, 2017

John McCain voted to move the G.O.P. health-care bill forward, and then inveighed against precisely the sort of cynical partisan political maneuver that he had just participated in.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty

The Senate Health-Care Vote and John McCain’s Tragic Contradictions

After seven years and four months, the Republican quest to repeal Obamacare has taken on vampiric qualities. A number of times since March, it has appeared to be dead, but each time it has resurrected itself. The latest occasion came on Tuesday afternoon, when Vice-President Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate on a procedural motion that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, had put forward.

If this motion, which called on the Senate to take up discussion of the health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed in May, had been defeated, the repeal effort would likely have been finished. But McConnell and his colleagues managed to cobble together just enough votes to keep their ambitions alive.

Image result for The incompetent Mitch McConnell

Not Bad –This saloon manager must have invested his modest income in NYSE and made a windfall!

The swing vote was cast by Shelley Moore Capito, the junior senator from West Virginia, who, last week, had joined with two of her Republican colleagues, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, to block McConnell’s idea of having a vote solely on repealing the A.C.A., without putting in place any replacement measures. If Capito had stuck with Collins and Murkowski, both of whom voted against the procedural motion on Tuesday, it, too, would have failed. But, after meeting with Donald Trump in her home state on Monday, Capito put party loyalty before the interests of her constituents, about a third of whom are on Medicaid.

The vote was also marked by the dramatic appearance of John McCain, who returned to the Senate for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer. After receiving a standing ovation from his colleagues, McCain cast a vote in favor of McConnell’s motion, and then spoke from the floor of the Senate with great passion. After referring to his thirty-year career in the Senate, and his work with politicians of widely divergent views from both parties, he went on:

I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.

Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.

We’re getting nothing done. . . . We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the Administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.

These were stirring words, and they contained a lot of truth. But what good did this verbal tour de force do? In voting for McConnell’s motion, McCain participated in precisely the sort of cynical partisan political maneuver that he inveighed against. For months now, McConnell has been scheming to shove through a monumentally consequential reform without any hearings, markups, or efforts to reach out to Democrats. After last week, when this scheming looked destined to fail, he called for Tuesday’s vote on the “motion to consider”—even though he had not made clear what sort of measure the members would be taking up.

McCain supported McConnell’s motion. In doing so, he helped enable the Majority Leader to pursue his fallback strategy: getting practically any sort of measure passed and tossing the details of reform over to a Senate-House conference, which would deliberate in secrecy, with little input from anyone outside the G.O.P. leadership.

The Senate is now set to vote on three bills that have practically no chance of getting fifty-one votes: a repeal-only bill; the “repeal-and-replace” bill that McConnell originally proposed; and a revised version of the McConnell bill that includes an amendment from Ted Cruz, of Texas, which would allow insurers to sell cheap catastrophic-insurance policies outside of the Obamacare exchanges. After these votes are held, McConnell is expected to propose a so-called “skinny” repeal bill, which calls for the repeal of the individual and employer mandates but leaves everything else to be decided by the House-Senate conference.

If he had been following his own advice, McCain would have broken with McConnell and voted against the motion. If the motion had failed, the Republican leadership would have had little choice but to start talks with the Democrats about patching up the Obamacare insurance exchanges and, perhaps, making modest changes to Medicaid. Indeed, earlier this month, after McConnell’s repeal-and-replace bill failed to garner the support of fifty-one Republicans, Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health committee, announced plans to convene bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the individual-insurance markets. Now that McConnell’s motion has passed, such plans are in abeyance.

To be sure, this is only an interim victory for the Republican leadership: the ultimate outcome of their repeal efforts remains uncertain. Even if McConnell succeeds in punting the ball over to a House-Senate conference, the full Senate will eventually have to vote on a final piece of legislation, which will have specific terms that can be analyzed and discussed. Getting a final bill passed won’t be easy.

For now, though, the G.O.P. campaign against Obamacare is still alive, and it owes its life to subterfuge. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan managed to assemble a majority for his bill only by persuading his colleagues that any flaws it contained would be fixed in the Senate. That didn’t happen. Instead, McConnell now wants to abdicate the Senate’s deliberative responsibilities and kick things back to the House.

As McCain noted, these “responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.”

For his long record of service to the country, his bravery, and his acerbic streak, McCain is himself widely revered. It is a great pity, indeed a tragedy, that he and many other Republican senators didn’t act upon his words.

16 thoughts on “The Senate Health-Care Vote and John McCain’s Tragic Contradictions

  1. LaMoy,

    This is very much up your street. McCain is a Republican. He came back to vote to keep the Healthcare debate going to save face for his party. That is normal in our Najib controlled Parliament. Party first, constituents be damned.–Din Merican

  2. Any common sense approach to the US healthcare issue would conclude that, whatever one may feel about Obama himself, his bill was as good a starting point as any in the past decade…all it needed was to put the issue of costing right…

    So all this talk of bipartisanship etc. is baloney…it means only that, once again, people in the US are being denied…through delay and bs…

    In his Inauguration speech, Trump said words to the effect that people in Washington think only of themselves and not about “you”…great stuff Americans wanted to hear… in less than a year it is becoming increasingly clear that neither with jobs nor with healthcare is Washington thinking of their citizens…

  3. The fact that McConnell on Tuesday got 50 votes for the motion to proceed to debate on whatever is in the health 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 because of John McCain that he 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. In my previous post I’ve said that I believe McCain’s main policy interests are the military and foreign policy, not health care.

    McCain voted for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) Tuesday night, but voted against the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) on Wednesday. Both BCRA and ORRA have failed to pass. Debate will continue into the late evening, although I’m not exactly sure how late. I’ve heard there may be one more vote, around 7 tonight, although I’m not sure what it might be on. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be one that will alter the debate very much. Other than that, don’t expect much action beyond some floor speeches. There are no other votes scheduled for tonight, although a last-minute change is always possible. Thursday is when things will really pick up, with the start of “vote-a-rama” – a period when senators vote on lots and lots of amendments.

    I expect the Senate Republican leadership to move on to a different plan, presumably the “skinny repeal” bill we’ve read a lot about over the past few days. 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. As John Boehner, his former counterpart in the House of Representatives said recently, there is simply no way the Affordable Care Act (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, 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.

    I expect the Democrats have lots of amendments ready to offer – meant to force Republican senators to take wildly unpopular votes. It includes amendments to prevent the Republican health bill’s Medicaid cuts from hurting children with cancer or hurting pregnant women. Democrats can’t stop the Republican repeal push, but the goal of amendments like these is to gum up and slow down the process. For these amendments call for the bill to be sent back to the Finance Committee, which would then be tasked with aligning the amendment with the new bill.

    All in all, I expect the attempt to repeal the Obamacare will fail. Again. This is no longer an issue of left versus right – it’s about right versus wrong. Trump and his far-right Republicans are dead wrong.

  4. The truth is the Republican party on health care has no idea what they are doing.

    The bottom line is really, if US wants socialisation of healthcare, that free market of healthcare is can be brutal to some, then the best option is the single-payer system. The issue of the single-payer system in the US, its very very difficult given its size and breadth. They should be taking up the challenge of the difficulties, the technology and the compromise of individual rights and freedom for some minimum of social health care. Free market of healthcare actually may not be wrong but politically does it even possible anywhere?

  5. In a shocking twist, the Senate Republican skinny Obamacare repeal bill failed after John McCain cast the decisive no vote. John McCain’s Senate legacy is going to be shaped by this vote. He has lived up to his words when he spoke recently about a need to return to regular order. His vote early Friday morning means that the only way Republicans will get a health care bill passed is if they work with Democrats through the normal legislative process.

    John McCain (R-Arizona), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Democrats in voting no early Friday morning for the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare, with the bill failing on a vote of 49 to 51. The bill, dubbed the Health Care Freedom Act, would have repealed Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, defunded Planned Parenthood for a year, and allowed states to request waivers from benefits mandated by Obamacare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said it’s now “time to move on.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said he is “relieved millions and millions of people who would have been so drastically hurt by the three proposals put forward will at least retain their health care, be able to deal with preexisting conditions…we are relieved, not for ourselves, but for the American people.”

    This is the third day in a row that the Senate has voted down a health care bill. On Tuesday, the chamber rejected the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would repeal and replace Obamacare. On Wednesday, it came down against the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, a straight repeal bill. And in a dramatic debate that began Thursday morning and stretched into early Friday morning, the chamber rejected the Health Care Freedom Act, a bill that whittled down the Republicans’ ambitions to repealing the individual mandate.

    Three bills dead in one week now leaves the Senate Republicans repeal options currently exhausted. The Republican caucus does not have any extra bill drafts floating around at this point. They have a caucus that strongly supports repealing and replacing Obamacare but little path left to get there and they have no clear sense of where to go next.

    And Donald Trump still has not gotten the chance to sign any legislation. Zero. Zilch. Nada. He can’t tell the difference between an executive order and a legislation anyway. He still believes all the executive orders he has signed are legislations.

    • My reading is that Trump is obsessed with undoing the legacy of Obama. Typical of narcissistic vendettas – almost demonic in their tenacity and spite.
      Which programme of Obama will he go after next ?

    • Dr. Phua:
      Getting bored from retirement yet? Trump will never undo Obama’s legacy, no matter how tenaciously he tries. He is not even half a man than Obama. Trump is destined to have a tragic ending.

      When John McCain walked into the Senate chamber early Friday morning and cast the decisive vote to defeat the Health Care Freedom Act, it was a historic moment. And I have never been happier to have been dead wrong about McCain.

      When McCain, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, flew to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to vote on the motion to proceed with health-care legislation, he gave an intense speech harshly (and accurately) condemning the incredibly opaque and undemocratic process that McConnell was trying to use to ram an extremely unpopular bill through the Senate. The only problem was that he had just cast a crucial vote to allow the process he was attacking to go forward. I will freely admit that I was one of the skeptics of his speech. McCain had a history of showing rhetorical independence from the Republican leadership and then voting the party line. I thought we were seeing this again, at the worst possible time.

      But ultimately, McCain voted to kill the bill. The “maverick” earned his reputation with the highest stakes imaginable, and I’m happy to eat crow. We don’t know yet why he did it, but his actions are what matter. This is, above all, a victory for the American public.

      The so-called “skinny repeal” bill that was killed this morning would have led to 16 million people losing their health insurance and caused premiums to skyrocket. It would have resulted in millions of people losing employer-provided coverage and destroyed the individual insurance markets in many states. It would have savagely cut funding for women’s health services and public health funding. And a bill modified by a conference committee if this bill had passed would have almost certainly been even worse. It probably would have restored some or all of the draconian Medicaid cuts in the House and Senate bills, and eliminated even more of the Affordable Care Act’s crucial consumer-protection regulations.

      This victory doesn’t mean that Democrats will take over Congress in 2018. The Senate map is brutal for the Democrats, who may not be able to win the three seats they need to take over even in a wave election. The heavily gerrymandered House will also be a tough fight, although a winnable one. But Democrats can worry about 2018 later. This was a major victory.

      I want to salute Collins, McCain, and Murkowski who deserve a lot of credit for bucking their party and doing what’s right for the country. And the most credit goes to the many citizens who gave so much. Supporters of the Affordable Care Act took to the streets, called, and wrote, and made the public aware of what a fiasco passing this bill would have been. McConnell’s failure is above all a triumph of democracy over a party whose leadership expressed stunning contempt for democratic norms. Bless you, John McCain, for recognizing it.

  6. Mr LaMoy,

    Yes, McCain did something heroic – voted his conscience (as he is dying?).
    Reminds me of Lee Atwater who, on his deathbed, apologised to Michael Dukakis for the Willie Horton “attack ads”.
    Also reminds me of 90+ year old Dr M who wants to stop MO1
    from taking 1Malaysia further down the road of Nigeria-dom. Whether “Lenin” will fail to stop “Stalin” with the help of the imprisoned “Trotsky” is another matter …….

    Bored during retirement? No ….. will continue to write and release free
    e-books etc. for the public 🙂

  7. Dr. Phua:
    McCain has brain cancer known as a glioblastoma. Doctors removed the tumor and later scanning showed that the visible part of it was completely gone. Sadly, that doesn’t mean McCain’s cancer has disappeared. Glioblastomas grow in two ways. They grow as a solid mass, but they also spread on a microscopic level into surrounding brain tissue. The invisible spread is known as the infiltrative tumor. Glioblastomas are aggressive cancers. The midpoint of survival from the time of diagnosis is about 15 months. That means half of patients live longer, and half don’t live as long. About 30% of patients are alive 2 years after their diagnosis. Given his condition, I don’t think McCain give a damn about Trump’s narcissistic rage against him.

    But you’re right about Trump’s narcissistic rage. Trump went on throwing temper tantrum and calling GOP Senators fools while raging over Healthcare flop. The failure of Senate Republicans to pass Obamacare repeal led to Trump firing Reince Priebus, a close ally of Paul Ryan, and launching his plan to declare war on the Republican majority in the House and Senate. What the Trump White House is planning on doing is nuts, and will leave Trump as president on a political island by himself and destined to continue to fail.

    The Republican majority in Congress is the only thing that is standing between Trump and impeachment. If Trump goes after Ryan and McConnell, there is nothing stopping them from going full blast on the Russia investigation. The Republicans in Congress also control the fate of Trump’s entire agenda. Trump will not be able to get any legislation passed if he goes to war with his own party. Republicans also control the purse strings. It’s the Republicans in Congress who appropriate the money for everything from Trump’s travel to his dream of a border wall. If Trump picks a fight with them, it could turn ugly fast.

    Donald Trump has been president for more than six months, and Republicans have largely allowed him to get away with things previous presidents would have never gotten away with – but now it appears the honeymoon is over. Whether Trump is crazy enough to declare an open warfare with the GOP or not, from the grapevine I’ve learned that more and more Congressional Republicans are finally starting to panic over Trump’s dangerous incompetence. You may ask why it has taken so long for Congressional Republicans to recognize that this is who Trump is and always has been? The truth is that the GOP Congress didn’t care. It didn’t bother them that this man is clearly mentally unstable. It didn’t bother them that he lacked the qualifications and temperament to be POTUS. It didn’t bother them that he is an amoral egotist who has never cared about anybody but himself. It didn’t bother them that his main claim to fame is hosting a prime time game show. They’ve complete control of Congress, after all, and they saw Trump as a way to achieve right-wing policy goals that they’ve failed to accomplish for a long time. He would be their puppet, they hoped.

    Six months into his time in the White House, the tune of many Congressional Republicans is changing as Trump’s incompetence, corruption, and unfitness has thrown the entire Republican agenda into a dumpster and set it ablaze. For sure, there are still too many Republican leaders who continue to tow the line for the dangerous man in the White House. But as long as Trump continues to treat the government like a reality show or a play toy, something that exists solely for his childish amusement, more in the GOP will see what most Americans have known for a long time – Donald Trump’s incompetence is a clear and present danger to America.

    Whether Trump has the guts to carry out his open warfare with the GOP or not, what he really wants to see gone now is Robert Mueller. But he needs to get rid of Jeff Sessions first. That’s why he brought Mafia Mooch in to “clean house”. Mooch reports directly to Trump and answers only to him, not to the White House Chief of Staff. This is a strange arrangement. Now that he’s gotten rid of Reince Priebus his next target is, I believe, Jeff Sessions. He would like to replace Sessions with someone who is willing to kiss up to him to fire Robert Mueller. Trump has insulted the attorney general almost every day, deliberately humiliating Sessions to get him to quit. In my opinion, replacing Sessions with someone more compliant and more willing to shutter the Mueller probe would be very difficult. Firing Mueller would immediately trigger the process for impeachment, as warned by many congressmen.

    The Trump administration’s chaos has reached an astounding new level. This is the most clueless, incompetent, and self-defeating administration in American history. But I’m sure Shiou will disagree with me. Gee, what’s the drug CLF asked me to send him?

    • LaMoy,

      Where is America heading? The Republicans are a disaster. I wonder what will happen in another 6 months into this Presidency. How would Trump respond to a crisis of international proportions? Can you trust this mad cap with the nuclear code? BTW Le Mooch has gone into the background since he knows he cannot share the limelight with the POTUS. The democrats are not any good either. You have a leadership crisis in the Beltway. What option(s) do you have? –Din Merican

    • Bang Din:
      America is bitterly divided, we have become a nation opposing itself, begging the question: Where is the country going? I’ve to be very honest with you that I don’t have the answer. I simply don’t know. These are tumultuous times in America. The winds of change are blowing in every direction.

      America was divided before Donald Trump. People wanted change, and that was how Trump got elected. Maybe the election of a narcissist mad man with his clueless, incompetent, and self-defeating administration is a blessing in disguise. Maybe the disappearing and dying bipartisanship would rejuvenate, especially after John McCain’s passionate speech and his heroic action in the last healthcare bill vote.

      America’s government has long valued a spirit of bipartisanship. Members of its two main parties, Democrats and Republicans, would regularly set aside their political differences and work together on projects deemed to be in the national interest. But the spirit of bipartisanship is rapidly dying. On almost every matter, there is bitter division between Democrats and Republicans, with each holding their ground, quickly becoming implacable foes. In this poisoned atmosphere, long-time members of the House of the Representatives and the Senate, like John McCain, as well as political analysts are concerned about the unprecedented lack of cooperation. It all started with the right-wing Republicans opposing Obama for the sake of opposition in everything he was trying to do during his presidency and insisting to undo any of his presidential legacy.

      In terms of partisan conflict, we’ve never really seen anything like this and it’s really shocking for a country that by and large has hung its hat on moderation – compromise between conservatives and liberals. If you take a look at data in terms of the divisions between Republicans and Democrats specifically, you’d have to go back to Reconstruction in the 20 or 30 years after the Civil War. This accusative spirit is infecting the country. More and more, Congress seems to be firmly split down party lines on every issue, forcing its own political ideology. Americans cannot seem to agree on anything, whether it is morality, history, culture, politics or how to address national issues. Other contentious arguments are raging over immigration reform, “cap and trade,” energy policy, student loans, abortion and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever policy the government implements, the opposition fights – and whatever the opposition proposes, the government opposes.

      But I have faith in my fellow Americans, the Average Joes and Janes. As a grassroots political activist I’ve seen the movement becoming larger and larger, that more and more people are realizing a nation of division, backbiting, infighting and vehement partisanship cannot stand. From the country’s formative years, when Americans fought for independence from Britain, they’ve treasured the values of initiative, innovation, self-reliance, risk-taking and hard work. Government was necessary largely to protect its citizens and ensure that law and order prevailed. Many believed, and still do, that its involvement in the economy – and in the lives of citizens – should be minimal.

  8. Yes, yes, yes… all you folks are right… but when will millions of ordinary Americans get the affordable Health Care they keep being promised? And jobs to feed their families?

    In half a year all that has happened is a frenzy on Russia, raising temperatures on non existent enemies and absolutely nothing about political reform…

    Four years from now the same will be true…

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