The latest Republican health care bill failed to pass through the Senate, stopping a reckless last-minute push to overhaul the U.S. health care system and saving millions of Americans from losing insurance coverage. While the failure of the legislation is a sign that parts of the system are still working, the fact that the bill even made it to a vote serves as a stark warning that the health of our democracy is in a state of rapid decline.
Friday’s vote capped off a week of shameful political brinkmanship, during which the erosion of basic democratic norms and principles was on full display. Three days prior, 50 Republican senators and the vice president voted to advance a health care bill that didn’t even exist. That amounts to the legislative equivalent of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and bringing millions of Americans along for the ride.
Some of those Americans made their way onto the Senate floor to protest Tuesday’s procedural vote, where Capitol Police promptly cut them off. The officers quickly moved in and began handcuffing protesters while others physically blocked journalists from getting too close to the scene. Some reporters were even forced to delete the photos they had taken, adding to the shroud of secrecy surrounding this entire process. Not a single Republican spoke out in protest of this blatant violation of constitutional rights.
Over the next two days, Republicans held a series of largely symbolic votes on measures that were never designed to pass. As the Senate debated various proposals, the public was kept in the dark and Democrats were almost entirely shut out of the process. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the final text of the GOP health bill around 10 p.m. Thursday night, just two hours before he brought it to the floor for a midnight vote. In one of many breaches of protocol, GOP Senator Mike Enzi repeatedly blocked Democrats from publicly speaking or asking any questions about the bill during the hour specifically devoted to public debate.
GOP starting to shut down debate. @SenatorEnzi just said he won’t allow anymore Ds to speak on the bill, won’t answer questions from Dems.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 28, 2017
The final vote took place under the cover of darkness. As much of the country slept, Republicans readied themselves to silently dismantle the U.S. health care system with a bill that was so awful, several senators actually demanded assurance that it would never become law if they voted to pass it.
Seriously, this is weapons grade bonkers. 3 Senators just announced they will vote for repeal only if assured it will never become law.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 27, 2017
“The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” Senator Lindsay Graham told Politico. He called the bill a “fraud” and said it would cause a crisis in the insurance market, but that he’d vote it for anyway if House leadership promised that it wouldn’t become law.
Senator David Purdue echoed Graham’s sentiment, telling reporters that the only problem with the Senate health bill was that if it passed, “the House [might] take it up and actually have a vote on it.”
Perdue on #SkinnyRepeal “The only possibly problem would be would the House take it up and actually have a vote on it.”— Lisa Mascaro (@LisaMascaro) July 27, 2017
At least seven Republican senators said they didn’t think the skinny repeal bill should be signed into law. Six of them voted to pass the legislation. The only one who didn’t was John McCain, who joined fellow Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, along with all 46 Senate Democrats and two independents, to defeat the measure in a hairline 49-51 vote.
The most shocking part of this entire debacle is not that the bill failed, but how close it came to passing. Without any committee hearings or markups, public debate and a single Democratic amendment added to the measure, 49 Republicans voted in favor of an eight-page proposal to overhaul one-sixth of the national economy and imperil coverage for more than 15 millions Americans.
The dysfunctional process that led up to Friday’s early morning vote is not an anomaly. It’s the culmination of a seven-year campaign to dismantle President Obama’s signature health care law at any cost—even if that meant discarding regular order in favor of obstructionism, brinkmanship and hostage-taking. While there are certainly legitimate issues with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have never been interested in addressing them, nor have they ever lifted a finger to work with Democrats to improve the law. When their warnings about death panels and death spirals didn’t pan out, they decided to try to sabotage the law themselves, using any and all means possible, including a shutdown of the U.S. government.
When President Donald Trump was elected, Republicans finally got the chance to make good on their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. With majorities in the House and the Senate, the GOP had the floor, literally and figuratively. But instead of using their newfound political power to work the legislative process, Republicans decided to forego it entirely. In doing so, the GOP has shown that they’re just as unready to govern today as they were during Obama’s presidency, when they were little more than a protest party.
With the latest failed legislation, we are once again left in a perilous position, with Republicans unable to pass legislation to change the law but also unwilling to try to improve the current law or even admit their role in creating this dysfunction. At the same time, efforts to undermine the health care law are intensifying.
Uncertainty about the future of the health care law threatens to wreak havoc on the insurance market.
Just last week, a report by the Daily Beast revealed that the Trump administration has been using taxpayer money to fund a covert propaganda campaign designed to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. According to the report, administration officials spent money intended to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on an expansive public relations campaign “aimed at methodically strangling it.” The PR campaign includes video testimonials and a major social media push designed to damage public opinion of Obamacare and dissuade people from enrolling.
Yes, you read that correctly: Our own government is using public funds to sabotage a government program.
Meanwhile, uncertainty about the future of the health care law threatens to wreak havoc on the insurance market. With just weeks to go before companies have to set rates for the upcoming year, insurers still have no idea what to expect and may decide to increase prices for plans or, in some cases, leave the market altogether to avoid potentially costly risks. After years of warning about death spirals, Republicans may be on the brink of actually starting one, on purpose.
As we move forward, it’s important to remember that the health care debate didn’t take place in a vacuum. The dysfunction, chaos and disorder displayed over the past week are part of a broader pattern of political malfeasance—one that stretches from the halls of Congress right into the Oval Office.
In Trump’s White House, governing isn’t about improving the lives of the American people. It’s about winning at any cost, by any means necessary. Threats, intimidation, bullying, deception, secrecy and lawlessness have no place in a functional democratic process, but they’ve found a home within the Trump administration.
When Republicans return to the floor, they’ll have a choice to make. Will they try to restore regular order and patch the wounds they’ve inflicted on our democracy? Or will they continue to embrace the destructive tactics of authoritarianism, wielding their political power as a weapon against the very people and institutions they were entrusted to lead? The answer will not only determine the fate of our health care system, but the future of our system of governance.