Senate GOP’s healthcare problem isn't Trump

Source:   —  July 17, 2017, at 6:37 AM

These intra-party clashes of personality and policy stymie the bill’s progress as much as any other political force.

Senate GOP’s healthcare problem isn't Trump

One large reason Senate Republicans are having trouble uniting around a map to overhaul the nation’s health coverage is that a lot of them just don’t get along.

These intra-party clashes of personality and policy stymie the bill’s progress as much as any other political force. Sure, lawmakers are reluctant to side with President Donald Trump, particularly in traditional swing states such as OH or Wisconsin. And waiting in the House are conservatives who are wary of the latest Senate plan, crafted to win over centrists.

But what’s most hurting the Senate’s effort to arrive together are the personal relationships. Or lack of them.

Sen. Pat Roberts, who was involved in drafting both versions of the Senate health care bill, said he hasn’t spoken to his fellow Republican senator from Kansas, Jerry Moran, about why Moran hasn’t gotten on board yet.

Moran’s vote is crucial, since he’s regarded as one of six undecided Republicans. Two GOP senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, are opposed to the legislation unveiled Thursday, meaning one more defection dooms the bill. Republicans control fifty-two Senate seats.

It'd create sense that Roberts, a veteran lawmaker and powerful agriculture committee chairman serving his fourth term, would attempt to persuade his younger colleagues.

But he’s struggling with Moran. “No. Between you and me and the fence post, I’m trying to obtain a better word than no, but that’s where it is,” Roberts told the KS City Star. “Quite frankly, I think the best thing to do is to ask Jerry.”

Told that a reporter hadn’t been able to track Moran down on Capitol Hill, Roberts quipped, “Imagine that.”

This sort of chilly relationship between a state’s senators is hardly unusual. Moran might be trying to arrive out of Roberts’ shadow by splitting with Roberts and GOP leadership on health care, said Wendy Schiller, a Prof of political science at Brown Univ who wrote .

“This, to me, is Jerry Moran’s move,” she said. “He clearly wants to set up himself as an independent force in Kansas politics.”

If tension already exists between lawmakers, really tough votes are going to aggravate the situation, said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, a research group.

“They’re very high profile, there’s a lot of public press on various points of views on the issue, and it’s just going to create the whole situation much worse,” West said.

“You would think there would be more conversations taking space within the delegation,” he said, “but sometimes it doesn’t happen because the issue’s very hot.”

The math on health care is tough for the GOP, a fact that even Trump acknowledged in a conversation with reporters on Air Force One recently.

“It’s love this narrow road that about a quarter of an inch wide,” the president said of the difficulty of getting Republicans to agree. “You obtain a couple here and you say, great, and then you discover out you just lost four over here. Health care is tough.”

That’s the challenge for Senate Majority Boss Mitch McConnell, R-Ky; Roberts wants to curb the rising costs of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that helps pay health care for lower income consumers, and Moran doesn’t wish Medicaid slashed too much.

Other states have similarly split delegations.

McConnell can’t convince his own residence state Republican colleague, Sen. Rand Paul, to connect him in supporting the bill. Paul says it doesn’t keep Republicans’ promise to repeal Obamacare because it keeps many of the law’s regulations and subsidies.

Paul, who's lashed out at McConnell for not negotiating with his office before releasing a draft of the health care bill, said the only way to obtain all fifty-two Republican senators to consent on health care is to split the bill in two: One that repeals Obamacare, and another involving all the regulations and funds to stabilize the market. McConnell isn’t likely to agree.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, heads the Senate Finance Committee, a major player in getting the legislation through the Senate. His Jr colleague, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is considered an undecided. He wants to repeal Obamacare provisions that prevent insurance companies from charging more to cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Add to all this Republican governors weighing in, too, trying to powerful arm their states’ senators to vote one way or another. On Friday, as Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, wavered on whether maintain the latest Senate bill, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and near political ally, slammed it as “still unacceptable.”

“Here’s the problem: You’re not going a bill passed in WA that Republican governors don’t like,,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S. C.

“We’ve got a really huge mess,” acknowledged Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “We arrive from different states. Some expanded, some didn’t. There’s a host of reasons. There’s just nothing simple about this.”

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