Whatever else I’ve had to say about Cory Gardner over the years, I’ve never once said, or even thought, that he wasn’t a shrewd and able politician. But now it may be time for a rethink.
I mean, is he really prepared to put his political career at risk by voting for an ill-conceived, ill-considered healthcare bill that is not only “mean,” as Donald Trump has so eloquently put it, but is also wildly unpopular with voters across the country and certainly in Colorado?
Not surprisingly, he isn’t saying. Gardner says he’s “reviewing,” which is either an attempt at looking thoughtful or a signal of real trouble for Mitch McConnell’s bill. As I may have mentioned before, if good-soldier Gardner is a ‘no’ vote, there is no healthcare bill. And as I should mention now, good-soldier Gardner — not up for re-election until 2020 — is currently voting with Trump at a 95 percent clip.
This is a bill, though, that Republicans, including Gardner, are having trouble defending. And no wonder. As the estimable Sarah Kliff at Vox explains, the bill would require low-and-middle-income Americans to pay significantly more than they did under Obamacare in order to get far less. What they would get is higher deductibles, higher co-pays, higher premiums. And that may be the best that can be said for it.
The bill is a full-on assault on Medicaid, capping subsidies, limiting their growth and eventually causing millions to lose coverage. The losers here will be, uh, children, people in nursing homes, people with disabilities and on and on. You may remember that Gardner signed onto a letter voicing concerns about Medicaid, which covers 30 million children and two of three nursing home residents. It’s hard to see how any of those concerns have been answered.
And it gets worse. The bill allows states to waive the essential-health-benefits provision that requires insurers to offer coverage for, you know, essential health benefits. It does get rid of the unpopular individual mandate but replaces it with absolutely nothing. That means young and healthy people are far less likely to be part of the pool helping to pay for older and not-so-healthy people.
Oh, and there’s this: The bill also serves up a huge tax cut for the wealthy, to be paid for by—wait for it—cutting services for the poor. It is, as Democrats like to say, a massive wealth redistribution plan. Or as Elizabeth Warren puts it: “Blood money.”
This bill, which is polling somewhere between 20 and 30 percent, could never possibly pass but for two things: Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace Obamacare for seven years, and Trump, who has no idea what’s in the bill, thinks it would be humiliating not to pass something, even if it doesn’t have “heart.” So there it is, like it or not, and most people seem to be in the or-not camp.
The Senate version of Trumpcare is no better than the terrible House version of the bill that Trump celebrated in the Rose Garden before deciding it was too “mean.” That’s one White House moment, by the way, they do have on tape.
And not only is it a terrible bill, Republicans are pretty open about the fact, having drafted it in secret and refusing to hold any hearings. It was almost as if they were begging fake-news punditry to point out the irony that Republicans had complained for years that Obamacare had been rammed down their throats. Now, in the updated 2017 version of bill-ramming, you apparently do it while blindfolded.
So, what will Gardner do? He told The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews that he doesn’t understand why there’s such a rush to get a vote on the bill, which is scheduled for late next week. That’s an easy question to answer, of course. McConnell is rushing the bill because that’s the only way it could pass.
You’d think that Gardner, who’s definitely not in a hurry, would know that much since he was one of 13 senators assigned to craft the bill. But Gardner told The Post his role was actually limited to providing input, including, he said, helping to make sure that children with disabilities and certain other complications would be exempted from Medicaid limits. One problem with that. If Medicaid funds are limited, and they would be, that simply means some other child is necessarily excluded.
I’m not sure what to think about the bill’s prospects. Republicans can afford to lose only two senators or the bill is dead. So let’s put Gardner aside. Four senators from the right — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson — have withheld support so far, saying the bill is too much like Obamacare and therefore, in effect, not mean enough. I don’t know if that’s anything more than a bargaining ploy, although Paul is the most likely to defect. I’d bet strongly against the other three.
From the moderate end, Susan Collins sounds like a ‘no,’ but she often sounds like a ‘no’ and then votes ‘yes.’ Nevada’s Dean Heller, who’s up for re-election in 2018 and who is already considered vulnerable, has to be shaky. There are a few other moderates in play.
And Gardner? How much pressure would he have to feel before he’d defect, even in a blue-ish state, and vote to save Obamacare? OK, I can’t imagine it either. We all remember Gardner’s letter-waving opposition to Obamacare and the 50-plus times he has voted to repeal the law. The letter waving helped make him senator. The repeal votes were no more than show votes, though, with no chance of becoming law.
But this is the real thing. The stakes are real. The pressure is real. The potential human cost is real. The CBO’s scoring of the House bill estimated 23 million people would be made to lose their insurance. It’s just that real. The CBO score of the Senate bill is due early next week, and the losses will again surely be in the many millions. That’s all that’s at risk, which is why you can be sure Gardner will still be reviewing up until the moment he has to actually cast his vote.
Photo by Gage Skidmore for Creative Commons on Flickr.