By Lawrence Fedewa – – Tuesday, March 28, 2017
It all started with Speaker Paul Ryan’s conclusion that a House version of the Obamacare repeal could not get through the Senate without a filibuster by the Democrats. He wasn’t confident that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could round up the 60 votes required to break a filibuster. But the Speaker has been around Washington for a long time. He figured out a way to get the repeal through both houses of Congress on a straight party line vote.
That left the replace issue facing a Democrat filibuster, but he calculated that he could win enough Democrats to break or even forestall a filibuster if he had enough momentum behind him. After all, by that time, Obamacare would be gone, all the tax savings would be in sight, and the Dems would not be able to explain to their constituents why they had voted against a continuation of at least some form of subsidy—even if it meant going into Medicaid or declaring a tax credit for their new insurance policies. With the momentum at his back, Ryan figured the Republicans had a good chance of winning everything. So, he gambled everything.
The speaker was always focused more on process than he was on content – a key mistake. His proposal was very clever, but very complicated. It was based on a three-phase strategy:
1) Shape the repeal in the form of a budget reconciliation bill, which needed only a majority of votes in both Houses. However, the reconciliation bill could not include any new legislation. Only changes to existing law could be included.
2) A feature of the Obamacare legislation was a delegation of almost unlimited authority to the HHS Secretary to change any and all regulations pertaining to the implementation of the legislation. With the reaffirmation of this authority, Dr. Tom Price, the new HHS Secretary, could virtually take apart Obamacare brick by brick. This was phase two of Ryan’s strategy.
3) Phase three was when all the good stuff – which requires new laws – could be voted on by both Houses and sent to him president for signature. Victory!
So, what went wrong? Ryan made some key assumptions which turned out to be wrong. The most basic mistake was his assumption that, because only a year ago the House and Senate had placed a comprehensive repeal and replace bill on President Obama’s desk (for veto), consensus among Republicans would be easily achieved.
That assumption should have been tested and accompanied by a national promotion which included all the key constituencies of the Republican Party, and the President should have been enlisted to spearhead the public debate. All this before the introduction of the bill. As it was, there was no consultation outside the small circle of the leadership, and no public consensus to fall back on when troubles arose. Quite the opposite: even the rank and file Representatives had not seen the proposed bill before it was introduced.
The second assumption that proved mistaken was that the House Republican Caucus would understand and trust the complicated process (called “regular order”) proposed by the Speaker. This could not have been farther from the truth.