Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at this point has busted pretty much every move in his effort to rally 50 votes for an Obama Care replacement. He’s listened. He’s negotiated. He’s encouraged. He’s cajoled. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Months later, still lacking a majority, the time has come for the Kentucky Republican to execute the final, clarifying move. It’s time for Mr. McConnell to make this all about his self-interested members.
Up to now, this exercise has been about trying to improve health care and the federal fisc. The House bill isn’t perfect—no bill ever is—but it amounts to the biggest entitlement reform in history. It repeals crushing taxes. It dramatically cuts spending. And it begins the process of stabilizing the individual health-care market and expanding consumer freedom.
None of this is good enough for a handful of senators, so now it’s time to make this exercise all about them. Mr. McConnell should make clear that the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party stands ready to make good on its repeal-and-replace campaign promise—and that it would have done so already were it not for a cynical or egotistic few. It’s time for some very public accountability.
That rests in Mr. McConnell giving his caucus a drop-dead date to broker a compromise, after which he will proceed to bring up the House bill. And any Republican who votes against moving forward, “a motion to proceed,” will forever be known as the Republican who saved ObamaCare. The Republican who voted to throw billions more taxpayer dollars at failing entitlement programs and collapsing insurance markets. The Republican who abandoned struggling American families. The Republican who voted against a tax cut and spending reductions. The Republican who made Chuck Schumer’s year.
And that’s only a short list of the real-world accountability. That vote might also provide home-state voters a new, eye-opening means to account for the character of their senators. Few things drive conservative voters battier than phony politicians, those who say one thing and do another to avoid hard choices.
Nearly every Senate Republican is on record having voted to repeal ObamaCare—back when they knew that President Obama’s veto made the vote consequence-free. And to be crystal clear, any senator who now votes against simply proceeding to debate is doing so for just one reason: To again avoid consequences, to again avoid accountability.
Because the good senators understand just how illuminating those votes would be. Under the Senate reconciliation process, anyone can offer endless amendments—with roll-call votes.
Voters would be able to see just how gigantic a Medicaid payoff Ohio’s Rob Portman, Nevada’s Dean Heller and West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito are demanding for their support. They’d watch supposed conservatives such as Tennessee’s Bob Corker vote against pro-growth tax cuts. They’d observe Utah’s Mike Lee offer up changes to ObamaCare mandates, muster not even a dozen votes, and realize how unpopular his position is. They’d witness Kentucky’s Rand Paul vote against all reform ideas—no matter how good—because they still weren’t good enough for Rand Paul.
They’d see Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski cynically vote against the very same repeal-only amendment she supported in 2015, back when it didn’t matter. They’d see South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy cast the only two votes for a bill they’ve been pushing—and confusing everyone with—for weeks.
Mr. McConnell can meanwhile count on a great deal of help in this accountability effort. Conservative grass-roots groups have tried to play a constructive role throughout this debate, but they have had it with Senate egos. They’re mobilizing to name names. The chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed, sent a letter to every senator on Thursday, explaining that his group would be watching the voting and documenting any “no” votes on “tens of millions of congressional scorecards and voter guides to be distributed in 117,000 churches nationwide in 2018.”
A flood of other conservative outfits—the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Tea Party Patriots—are launching websites andTwitter campaigns to highlight holdouts. Some groups are planning primary challenges against those who refuse to debate a bill. The Murkowskis of the world may be hoping nobody will remember by the time they’re up for re-election, but they shouldn’t count on that.
What the Senate leadership most needs to stress these coming days is that senators who claim they can’t “support” debating a flawed bill are snowing voters. Don’t like the bill? Get it to the floor and offer amendments. But do it in the open. Do it with some accountability.
Maybe, finally under the public glare, Republicans will get their act together.