Fair and Unbalanced
Littwin: As Trumpcare blows into Senate, Cory Gardner has nowhere to hide
If Cory Gardner were being honest about it — I know, a longshot — he’d have to admit that no one was rooting harder than he was for the latest iteration of Trumpcare to fail in the House.
The bill passed, of course, and now goes to the Senate. And not only will Gardner presumably be forced to vote on the bill someday, he’s one of 13 Republicans charged with actually drafting the Senate version. Since everyone expects the Senate to bury the House bill, which is basically the political equivalent of a toxic waste dump, the drafting process is where the expected long and bloody Senate fight begins.
In other words, Gardner’s fingerprints will be all over this one. And while it’s true that Gardner’s dodge is nearly as good as his legendary feint, it will be a challenge even for him to avoid taking responsibility for whatever comes out of the Senate.
You may remember way back to 2014 when Gardner was running to displace Mark Udall. Obamacare was wildly unpopular in Colorado, and Gardner was seen wildly waving that letter which, he claimed, proved Obamacare had robbed him of his insurance. It was great political theatre, without which Udall would probably still be a senator.
Let’s just say things have changed, and Donald Trump has done what Barack Obama could never do, which is to make Obamacare semi-popular. So what is Gardner to do?
He has already done what no one could have expected, which was to sign on to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he wouldn’t vote for any bill that didn’t sufficiently protect the Obamacare Medicaid expansion.
Let’s think about that. I’m sure Gardner has said something good about Medicaid before, but I couldn’t find it. But now, of course, 400,000 Coloradans are covered by the Medicaid expansion.
So Gardner writes, along with Senate Republican colleagues Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito and Lisa Murkowski, “We are concerned that any poorly implemented or poorly timed change in the current funding structure in Medicaid could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services.”
I’m guessing the House bill, which would cause millions to lose coverage, qualifies as reduction to access. It would steal $880 billion over a decade from Medicaid, which, at this point, provides health care to roughly 74 million people. And most of the, uh, loot would go directly to a massive tax cut for the rich, which seems to be the point of the entire exercise.
I mean, maybe Gardner, who by his own count has voted more than 40 times to repeal Obamacare, has said something good about Obamacare before, but I couldn’t find that either.
As former Denver Post conservative columnist David Harsanyi asked in a piece for The Federalist, whatever happened to the Gardner who used to brag about co-sponsoring the “Defund Obamacare Act”? That act, Harsanyi noted, included the line that “no entitlement to benefits under any provision of (Obamacare) shall remain in effect on and after the date of enactment.”
That would presumably have included the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, but let’s not get hung up on details. What matters is that Trump will sign whatever bill comes to him, whether or not it preserves Gardner’s newish concern with Medicaid’s “life-saving health care services.” Come on. Trump humiliated his own party — and himself — on the same day of the House vote by saying that Australia has a better health care system. That’s probably true. Like most countries with advanced economies, Australia provides single-payer, universal-coverage health care, which is the opposite of what the House passed and the opposite of what Trump had just praised.
The Washington Post has called Trump’s longtime support for single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare his forbidden love. You can guess that most Republicans opted for more colorful descriptions.
In any case, you can see Gardner’s problem. Mike Coffman, who was supporting Trumpcare until he finally figured out how badly the politics played for him, was one of 20 House Republicans to vote against the bill. But the GOP has such an overwhelming advantage in the House that it squeaked through anyway. Republicans have only 52 votes in the Senate, meaning that even if they write the bill so that it can technically avoid a Democratic filibuster, they still need 50 votes, plus Mike Pence in a tiebreaker.
If they don’t have Gardner, they don’t have a bill. It dies in the Senate. That’s the math because if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that whatever Gardner might have said about Trump in the past, he won’t put himself in a position where he’s one of only, say, two Republican senators to defy the president today.
If they do have Gardner, or at least the Gardner he wants us to think he is, that’s another story, but with a similar ending. If the Senate passes a bill that does protect Medicaid — as Gardner has put himself on the record as defending — it will never get through the House. And if the Senate passes a bill that ensures people with pre-existing conditions are fully covered — a political necessity that House Republicans chose to ignore — it will never get through the House.
Of course, those aren’t the only scenarios. There’s a potentially much scarier one, especially for Gardner. The Senate could create a bill that miraculously unites a fractured Republican Party in agreement that it simply can’t afford the embarrassment of failing to undo Obamacare. And so America would take a tragic step backwards by adopting Trumpcare or Terrificare or what would surely come to be known in Colorado as Corycare.
Screenshot of video of Sen. Cory Gardner at May 3 energy hearing via Gardner’s Youtube channel.