I’m not sure how it happened, why it happened or even exactly when it happened, but it seems that our own John Hickenlooper and his new pal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, are now apparently in charge of fixing the health care system in America.
Nobody appointed them to the job. I checked to be sure. And as far as I can tell, no one even asked them.
But they’ve been at it for months now. The theory, presumably, is that since Trumpcare, Ryancare and McConnellcare have all failed to either repeal or replace Obamacare, somebody has to step up before Donald Trump, out of frustration or malice or both, tries to blow the whole thing up.
And if you watch cable TV news, or the Sunday morning shows, Hickenlooper and Kasich are all over the place, promoting a plan that doesn’t yet exist, while promoting a return to bipartisanship, which also doesn’t exist, maybe, just maybe, also promoting themselves. Here’s a tell on the self-promotion part: Kasich, who has already run against Donald Trump once and might well challenge him in a 2020 primary, insisted to John Dickerson on CBS News’ Face the Nation that the last thing he and Hickenlooper want is any credit.
OK, it’s easy to be cynical. For Hickenlooper, this is not only a big play, if one involving almost no risk, but it’s also an extremely savvy one. And who knows, maybe it can even work.
I always laugh when I hear Hickenlooper mentioned as one of many potential candidates in a wide-open presidential field in 2020. You don’t need to be a political science major to know that Democrats have moved well to the left or that Hickenlooper, who has spent most of his political career avoiding party labels, is a committed centrist. If there was ever a right time for Hick on the national stage, this isn’t it.
I don’t think Hickenlooper is running for president, except in the wildest of his dreams, although a run for president to take another shot at vice president could make some sense. Whatever, I’m pretty sure he’s running for something, which could mean Cory Gardner’s Senate seat, which is also up in 2020. Hick himself says he’s “not ruling it out,” which could mean anything. Or nothing.
But it may not be coincidence that Hick is working on health care while Gardner not only voted three times for increasingly unpopular versions of dismantling Obamacare, but embarrassed himself in the process by continually hinting he was undecided how he would vote. His decision, it turned out, had less to do with health care reform than with playing good soldier for McConnell and Trump. Asked about Gardner’s series of votes, Hickenlooper said, “That’s not the Cory Gardner I thought I knew.”
Actually, of course, it’s exactly the Cory Gardner we all know.
Hickenlooper’s decision, meanwhile, is to go back to his comfort zone — which is to talk about the need to work across the aisle. Talking about it, after all, is the easy part, and few things work better in politics than appealing to the please-stop-the-dysfunction vote. I mean, people always say they want the parties to work together, even if they keep electing people who don’t. That’s why Hick and Kasich are also talking about a job-training fix. I mean, what could be more bipartisan than that?
In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 71 percent of respondents wanted Republicans to work with Democrats on fixing health care. And, if you’re having any trouble with the math, 71 percent is a majority in any town. (It’s also about double Trump’s current approval ratings, if you’re into that kind of thing.)
So along come Democrat Hickenlooper and Republican Kasich as governors (meaning, yes, politicians, but not from Washington) promising to work together with other governors (also not from Washington) to save the day. They say they’re going to put their staffs to work to come up with a solution that they can then take to other governors and their staffs and, before you know it …
OK, that’s not the way landmark legislation, or any other kind, usually works. I wouldn’t expect the United States Congress to thank a bunch governors for doing what they’ve failed miserably at doing. Last I heard, Mitch McConnell was saying he found it “extremely irritating” that people were calling the do-nothing Congress a do-nothing Congress. And he blamed Trump for his “excessive expectations.”
Meanwhile, Lamar Alexander, currently a senator, has already said he will hold hearings on stabilizing the insurance markets on the Obamacare exchanges. That’s the main problem right now — a problem, in large part, because Trump keeps threatening to sabotage the exchanges by not “bailing out” insurance companies. The bailout is actually “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies paid to insurance companies by the federal government that allow for lower cost of deductibles and copays for those making less than 250 percent above the poverty line. In other words, the so-called bailout is to ensure that people who have insurance can actually use it.
That’s the kind of thing Hickenlooper and Kasich might be able to explain to a TV audience. And even if they don’t put together a plan the Senate is likely to adopt, they could put on a show about how to improve health care without getting politics in the way. If that’s a longshot, there is this, which seems like a sure thing: If they make a good impression on TV, who do you think will be watching them on the shows?
Hickenlooper told the story the other day of walking through the receiving line at the White House, where governors were dining with Trump. Hickenlooper had been on cable TV that morning, and Trump, he said, “stopped and kind of made a funny face and said, ‘I saw you this morning. You were good — very good. I’ll have to keep my eye on you.’”
So, Hickenlooper has Trump’s attention. Kasich has long had Trump’s attention, if not necessarily in a good way. Now all they need is even more time on TV and a one-page beautiful health care plan to bring with them on the set.