In recent years, those of us who cut our political teeth during the Clinton years have come to believe that there is a certain element in the Republican base who will not accept a Democratic president as legitimate–whether he or she is white, black, or polka-dotted. The Obama years served as confirmation of this several times over.
Unfortunately, a number of Republican electeds have come to believe that they have to curry favor with this extremist element–presumably out of fear of being primaried. Until recently, the strongest evidence of this came when the Senate Republicans threw a tantrum and refused to even give a hearing to Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick to take Antonin Scalia’s old Supreme Court seat. Their reasoning? A lame-duck president in his final term shouldn’t be allowed to nominate Supreme Court justices and federal Appeals Court judges in his last term. Never mind that there is no precedent to support this argument.
One of the ringleaders of this tantrum was Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There was reason to hope this was an aberration. After all, Grassley is normally as reasonable as can be expected from a Republican. But any hope that this was an aberration was dashed when Grassley said that he plans to vote for the latest attempt to repeal Obamacare even though he knows it’s a loser.
The Republicans have latched onto a proposal crafted by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana that would turn Medicaid into a block grant program administered by the states. States would be able to stop covering benefits required under federal law, and could also allow insurers to raise rates for sicker patients.
Despite the major changes it entails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to bring up the bill without waiting for a full score from the Congressional Budget Office on how much it will cost or how many people will lose their coverage. This is because the Republicans have until September 30 to jam a repeal through using the budget reconciliation process–which allows them to pass a bill with only 51 votes. Any repeal attempt after September 30 will almost certainly run into a Democratic filibuster.
In a conference call with several Iowa journalists, Grassley admitted with his usual frankness that his caucus had painted itself into a corner.
“You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”
Grassley admitted that Graham-Cassidy wouldn’t address the lack of choice in Iowa’s health insurance market, or the increased premiums that many Iowans face. He himself prefers something similar to what the two top lawmakers on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, were hammering out before talks collapsed on Tuesday.
And yet, he still feels he has to back this bill. Why? He values his gavel more than working constructively. That’s about the only conclusion you can draw for ramming through a bill affecting almost 18 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product without anything resembling regular order. If he likes Alexander and Murray’s proposal so much, why didn’t he throw his weight behind it?
CNN’s Chris Cilizza believes Grassley’s statement sums up the “rock and a hard place” in which the Senate Republicans find themselves. Pass a repeal bill, and they risk a revolt from Americans who want them to sit down with Democrats and fix Obamacare. Judging by the reaction on Twitter, that revolt is already underway.
@ChuckGrassley Glad to see you admit your reelection is more important than people's lives. Party over people…the GOP mantra. Pathetic
— Fred Zahran (@falcon4348) September 21, 2017
Of all the promises they've broken, killing Americans is the one they keep?
— Alex Neely (@Alex91RoT) September 21, 2017
— Joe Bua (@JoeWatchesTV) September 21, 2017
Grassley needs a class in the Constitution because he also held his hand up & swore to defend America. That supercedes anything said before
— Night Mists (@Nitemists) September 21, 2017
— Lance Mannion (@LanceMannion) September 21, 2017
If this bill passes, what will you tell a grandchild who gets cancer and can't afford the $28,000 surcharge?
— Jeffrey Bruner (@jeffreybruner) September 21, 2017
On the other hand, not passing a repeal will send the Republican base into full revolt. After all, the GOP has spent over seven years promising that they would repeal Obamacare if they ever got complete control of the government.
Grassley has branded himself as the epitome of Iowa common sense. Perhaps he ought to use that common sense and vote against this misbegotten bill. After all, if he’s so concerned about responsibility, he should understand that he has a responsibility to all of Iowa, not just the Republican primary voters.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA license)