Obamacare: Will the Senate Let It Live?

By Jamie Stiehm

June 23, 2017 5 min read

Obamacare is a patient etherized upon the Senate table, under a secret scalpel on the dark side of the Capitol. They say it's in critical condition and may die a swift death within seven days. It is only 7 years old.

The body is still warm, though President Trump is gleefully pronouncing it dead. We are talking about President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act. And part of this is personal. Repealing Obamacare, dealing a lethal blow to Barack Obama's legacy, is truly the best part of the Republican fun.

As Trump flits about swing states, never one to study the finer points, he knows "Mitch" is the man with the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aims to push a health care "repeal and replace" vote before the July 4 recess.

The conventional wisdom is that major social legislation can't be done without committee hearings, floor debate, artful compromise and deliberation.

This is a vote of tragic magnitude, after all, affecting millions of American families. At stake for so many is losing their health care insurance to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Those on Medicaid are said to be most vulnerable.

But McConnell is brazen, crafty and willing to walk where nobody ever has. The Senate Democratic leader, Charles Schumer of New York, is fast on his feet on the floor, but practically powerless to stop this ship from sailing. Democratic senators are fighting mad, denouncing McConnell's sham act.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., denounced it as a "monstrosity, trading away women's health care for a tax cut for the rich."

Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., spoke on the floor: "We are not willing to discuss burning down the house."

Few realize just how fast McConnell is moving to meet the moment. The press focus on the Russian investigation has played nicely into his agile hands.

Most of his own Republican caucus of 52 senators had nothing to do with the process until the leader unveiled the bill to repeal Obamacare on Thursday, June 22. Democratic senators were never allowed in the room, so there was no pretense of bipartisanship.

Remember what everyone said about McConnell denying a confirmation hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's Supreme Court nominee last year?

They said: "You can't do that!" Well, yes, he can.

McConnell broke all rules of custom and civility — and was rewarded handsomely. Knowing time was his friend, he waited months to quell the outrage and shock as 2016 wore on. So a new Republican president got to name the archconservative Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy to sway the divided high court.

Emboldened by his historic victory, McConnell needs 50 votes (out of 52 Republicans) to take down Obamacare. This time, he knows time is his enemy. Hence the rush. In the few days remaining, Democrats are grasping at slender hopes: to crack a few of the four Senate Republican women and to rally public opinion to their side.

For those curious about the leader's method, here's how he operated on the patient, Obamacare, for weeks. Only 13 men were allowed at the table — McConnell and 12 angry men, I like to say. Yes, they were all white.

The secret huddle included lanky John Thune from South Dakota and folksy Johnny Isakson, 72, of Georgia.

Think about it, Californians and New Yorkers, living in two of the most populous states. Your senators are all Democrats and so you don't have a say, a voice at the table. A guy from South Dakota is controlling your family's fate.

That's the curse and flaw of the Senate, thanks to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. The Senate is known as "The Plantation" because it's often late to the game of progress with its elite, lopsided representation.

Over the years, Senate leaders were called "Southern old bulls." Meet McConnell, 75, who sees himself in that tradition. You hear Kentucky clear in his voice. And you have to admit, he's audacious.

An outsider president like Trump needs a shrewd insider like McConnell to get his agenda accomplished, political observers say. Even still, the vote will be a very near thing.

Don't look now, but the patient is showing signs of life.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.

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