GOP's Sisyphean Efforts

[ Posted Thursday, September 21st, 2017 – 17:24 UTC ]

The Republican Party, from all accounts, seems to be busy channeling their inner Sisyphus. It's really hard to come to any other conclusion, when they are once again focused on a healthcare bill that is likely to fail in the Senate next week. For the GOP, hastily-written and underanalyzed healthcare legislation seems to be the giant rock they are condemned for all eternity to roll up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again in the end.

Sisyphus, according to Wikipedia, was "punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness" by Zeus. Sisyphus was subjected to the eternal torture of pushing a heavy bolder up a steep hill, only to watch it roll back down again -- "an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration." Sounds pretty familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the Republican "repeal and replace Obamacare" efforts all year long, doesn't it?

Even worse for Republicans, each time they start pushing the rock upwards again, they seem to actually be adding more weight to the boulder -- by making each successive bill even worse than the one which preceded it. This time around, the bill is so awful they made sure the Congressional Budget Office wouldn't have enough time to accurately score it, meaning the senators will be voting to drastically reorganize one-sixth of the American economy without knowing in the slightest how it will affect the country at large, the economy as a whole, the federal budget, or the number of people who can afford to buy health insurance. Their previous efforts would have kicked tens of millions of people off their health insurance, and it's a safe bet that this plan would do pretty much the same thing, or even worse. Why else would they be so afraid of letting the public know its effects?

Jimmy Kimmel has already denounced the bill, and called one of the authors of the legislation a bald-faced liar on national television. Senator Bill Cassidy came on Kimmel's late-night show a while back, after Kimmel's heartfelt plea that any healthcare reform the Republicans were proposing should not put parents like him in fear of their newborn baby not getting the healthcare they needed (Kimmel's son was born with a heart defect). Cassidy had coined the term the "Jimmy Kimmel test" -- that any such babies should be covered -- and agreed with Kimmel in the interview that any legislation should be able to pass this test. This week, Kimmel accused him of blatantly lying about that, given the evidence of the Graham-Cassidy bill the Senate is now considering.

The Republicans, to switch metaphors for a moment, are repeatedly being hoist on a petard they created for their own political advantage. Obamacare, they told their voters over and over again, was so disastrous that they would spend every waking moment and every possible bit of their energy trying to repeal it, should they ever come into power in Washington. They successfully used the "repeal Obamacare" mantra (the "and replace" part was added much more recently) in several election cycles, until they finally did control both houses of Congress and the White House.

Their problem -- the core of the petard, in other words -- was twofold. First, by the time they could vote on a repeal bill that might actually become law (after Obama left the White House, in other words), the public had been enjoying Obamacare's benefits for years. No longer could the GOP use dystopian fantasies to scare the voters (see: "death panels"). Instead, they had to base their objections in some sort of reality. And the reality was that tens of millions of people now had health insurance who hadn't previously. This caused a change in tactics, when the "and replace" part became politically necessary.

Their second problem, however, was more fundamental. Obamacare has always been -- contrary to everything Republicans have said about it from Day One -- actually a pretty conservative market-based solution. Obamacare is not single-payer. Obamacare did not even have a public option. Instead, the insurance companies were to remain at the heart of the entire healthcare industry. The scheme itself was dreamed up by a guy from the Heritage Foundation, after all, and implemented in Massachusetts by none other than Mitt Romney. Meaning it is very hard to "get to the right of" Obamacare politically, because it's always been an extremely conservative scheme.

Adding to their woes (and returning to our original metaphor), if this effort fails in the Senate, the hill is about to get higher. Any bill voted on before the end of this month will only require 51 votes (including perhaps Vice President Pence's, in the case of a 50-50 tie). After this point, 60 votes will be necessary. So this may be the last time before the 2018 midterm elections that this political boulder gets pushed -- but then again, we've all said that multiple times before, so who really knows?

Currently, Republicans seem to have about 47 or 48 of those votes in hand. Only one senator has said he's a solid "No" vote: Rand Paul. The other three reported to be on the fence at this point are the same three who voted down the last attempt: John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. Some are already putting Collins in the "No" column, but I haven't seen a definitive statement from her yet, personally. If any two of those three join Rand Paul, then the rock is going to roll right back down the hill again. It may not even get a vote, if Mitch McConnell knows ahead of time that it will fail.

But then again McConnell may go through the motions, just to put all his fellow Republicans on record once again. Unlike previous efforts, this time around the impetus seems to have come from Republican donors unhappy with congressional Republicans' failure to make good on all their campaign rhetoric. Dark threats of primary challengers from the hard right are being tossed around, in other words. So perhaps McConnell will allow the vote just to prove that most Senate Republicans shouldn't deserve such a fate, even if he knows the bill will fail.

Of course, the bill could always pass. McCain and Murkowski might be enticed with some sort of special arrangement in the bill (the draft has not been finalized yet, so you can bet there is some serious horse-trading happening right now). If the Senate passes it, the House will likely do the same just to get the issue off their plate for good.

This, of course, would be the worst possible outcome for the Republicans, because then they would absolutely own the healthcare issue, and they would have passed a plan which is almost guaranteed to fail in at least some states (or, at the very least, cause pain and misery for tens of millions of voters). Republicans don't see it this way now, but the backlash is likely to be a lot more intense than they have yet imagined.

If we're all lucky, though, the boulder won't make it to the top of the Senate hill. Perhaps then Republicans might be willing to work on a bipartisan fix for some of the Obamacare problems. Or perhaps they'll figure out a way to use budget reconciliation again next year, and they'll continue to push the same boulder up the hill repeatedly, all the way to the midterm campaign season. The benefit to watching this repeated drama is that the Republicans' "eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration" means that they may just spend so much time and energy fruitlessly pushing the "repeal and replace" rock that they have little left over for any of the rest of their agenda. That would, obviously, be the best outcome to hope for.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “GOP's Sisyphean Efforts”

  1. [1] 
    dsws wrote:

    It sounds to me as though they probably have the votes. McCain and Rand Paul are waffling but probably on board. The former is very close with Lindsey Graham; the latter said "no" and flip-flopped last time, and has no reason to change his pattern this time.

    Kicking millions of people off their medical insurance will create a lot of anger. And anger feeds Republicanism. It doesn't have to make sense rationally. It only has to make sense emotionally. If blaming Obama for the mess lets them feel the way they want to feel, that's what they'll do.

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Like dsws, I am far less confident than you that this bill won't pass. But coming from a pretty solidly blue state with senators and reps aggressively against the bill, I feel like there's little more I can do than just watch another week of D.C. drama between now and the deadline next Friday.

    I wonder if Puerto Rico's agony will interact in some way with this issue, in the way the disaster relief bill affected the president's involvement with the Democrats' maneuvering over the budget a week or two ago? Congress (specifically the Senate in this case) doesn't always get the luxury of focusing on just one bill or issue at a time. The re-introduction of nuclear sabre-rattling over Korea by the president is another factor that may affect this bill's chances.

  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    [1] dsws: You're right that anger generally feeds republicans but I think this debacle will be a turning point. Repubs sit around making themselves mad over nonsense -- this will be real. And there will be white-hot rage coming from every direction. I've been mulling over my rage and how consuming it has been since November, and how all kinds of people who were never all that interested in politics are enraged too. Relationships have ended. Every new move by these bastards keeps it boiling. Righties are used to being the only ones mad, while lefties have wasted years "reaching out". That's not the dynamic anymore, except for some media holdouts. And if McCain signs this atrocity he will go from "hero" to the most hated man in the country, with all his pals lined up behind him.

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    McCain has decided to ignore the pleadings of longtime BFF Lindsay Graham and vote his conscience, according to the news. The Networks are calling this the nail in the healthcare reform coffin, but I'd remind everyone that even if McCain were to hold strong - Lindsay has a week to appease him, and the advantage of a long friendship - McConnell can still convince, threaten, cajole, and otherwise turn the votes of the other three holdout Senators.

    The deadline is still a week away. Remember, it's when you let your guard down that you get smacked really good.

  5. [5] 
    Paula wrote:

    [4] Balthasar: The deadline is still a week away: yep. We can't indulge in chicken-counting because one of the potential others may turn. McCain may turn -- I will believe his vote when I see it and not until. To be dependent on Rand Paul -- GAWD.

    But it does seem that the heat has been turned up -- it seemed to take a few days for resistance to gain steam. Monday I got through on Portman's comment line. Today the "box" was full.

    And YAY Jimmy Kimmel.

  6. [6] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    When this Sisyphean task is done, the GOP still has the Herculean task of resuscitating their own reputations. That's just the first item on an agenda that makes the Greek God's Labors look like an afternoon at the Mall.

    There are the things they planned to do, of course. They now have deadlines and budgets to pass, and, thanks to the Don and Chuck and Nancy, another Debt Ceiling debate. Following this unnecessary healthcare debacle rerun, the base will be on the warpath against McConnell, just one year out from when voters start casting votes for the Midterms.

    Moreover, this just exacerbates a problem that Ryan and McConnell have had in both houses: they can't push legislation on anything, because their caucuses are engaged in internecine conflict, yet won't work with Democrats for fear of further alienating their right flank and their hard-line donors. That last point is important because, even though McConnell could easily go around Mike Lee and Ted Cruz by making nice with Schumer, such a move would enrage his donor base, again, just before the Midterms.

    Trump on the other hand, with all of his filthy rich friends (including oligarchs), is donor-proof. His loyal base is gaffe-proof, and logic-immune. And it seems every other utterance is cause for yet another Senate inquiry. Trump put DACA on McConnell's plate along with some seriously mixed signals about what to do about it. He's threatening a nuclear tête-à-tête without even placing a phone call to congress.

    McConnell and Ryan have just about reached the crossroads on Trump. They can't normalize him, or trust him to do even the things he agrees to do. On the other hand, Trump, like a manic Zeus, keeps presenting them more and more difficult tasks. If this keeps up, Ryan will be prematurely gray, and McConnell's heart (which is tiny and cold, but functional) will give out. Hercules, they ain't.

  7. [7] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Paula: And YAY Jimmy Kimmel.

    Yeah. Yeah Jimmy! Without his input, this whole debate might have slid under the tide of other news, given our whole nuclear threats/natural disasters matrix lately.

    The funny part today was when some Republican criticized Kimmel, suggesting that entertainers should stay out of politics, only to be reminded by the whole rest of the world:

    Reagan. Trump. You've got to be kidding.


  8. [8] 
    Kick wrote:


    It sounds to me as though they probably have the votes. McCain and Rand Paul are waffling but probably on board.

    A. John McCain gave a speech.
    B. John McCain voted "no" on a similar bill.
    C. Nothing has changed since A and B.

    The former is very close with Lindsey Graham.

    Miss Lindsey can go suck it this time. :)

  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Looks like Repeal and Deface has died. McCain again. El Trumpo is going to be Twitterpated about this.

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