Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The GOP’s Schumer Option

The ‘bipartisanship’ to expect if Senate Republicans fail.


By Review & Outlook
The Wall Street Journal
June 28, 2017

Senate Republicans on Tuesday delayed a vote on their health-care bill until after the July 4 recess, and the timidity and opportunism of too many Senators suggest they may never get 50 GOP votes. We hope they understand that if they fail, Republicans will be entrusting their political health-care future to the brutal generosity of Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

The idea persists in some media and GOP ranks that if the Senate bill dies, this will produce a blossoming of bipartisanship. The left will have been repudiated by ObamaCare’s woes, and the right by the GOP Congress’s failure. Everyone can then sit down in the glorious middle and work out a compromise. It’s a lovely thought—like peace on Earth and the end of original sin. It is also a fantasy.

If Republicans fail, Democrats will have zero political incentive to cooperate except on their policy terms. Americans know that Republicans run Congress and the White House, and that they promised to do something about the problems of ObamaCare. Do Republicans really believe voters in 2018 will blame GOP failure on the President who left town two years ago? Democrats can tell you how well that strategy worked in 2010.

Then there’s who Republicans would negotiate with—and over what. Last week Governors John Kasich (R., Ohio) and John Hickenlooper (D., Colo.) offered a five-point bipartisan reform outline that was laughable in its lazy generalities: “Improve affordability . . . Restore stability to insurance markets.”

Well, sure, but how? Reaching these goals requires hard policy choices on which the parties are philosophically divided. Democrats want to stabilize markets with more taxpayer money and federal rules. Republicans want to deregulate markets and let insurers offer more plans that better suit the variety of insurance consumers. Democrats want to expand Medicaid to cover ever-more Americans. Republicans, or at least most of them, want to put Medicaid on a budget to provide better coverage to the neediest.

When Senate Republicans reached out to Heidi Heitkamp this spring to negotiate on health care, the North Dakota Democrat told Politico she had these demands: No per capita Medicaid block grants to the states and no rollback in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. And that was merely “the price of admission for me sitting down.” Ms. Heitkamp is the second most conservative Senate Democrat after West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

Ms. Heitkamp would never get a real chance to negotiate in any case. If their current effort fails, Republicans would then need 60 Senate votes to pass anything, and that gives Mr. Schumer the whip hand. His price for cooperating would include the Medicaid status quo; preserving the individual and employer mandates; tens of billions in higher subsidies to lure insurers back into the failing exchanges; and probably a limit on the policy flexibility the Trump Administration could allow states.

Does that sound like something Rand Paul might support? Or Mike Lee ? The more conservative Republicans who defect, the more Mr. Schumer would demand in return for more Democratic votes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to scramble to find even 15 Republicans to vote with Democrats as the GOP majority splinters.

This is the Senate reality, not some Kasich Kumbaya circle. Republicans can either set aside their narrow self-interest and fix ObamaCare on their terms, or they can collapse in disarray and bail it out on Mr. Schumer’s. In 2018 they can defend an accomplishment or try to explain away a failure. Americans will know the difference.


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