OPINION - As House Republicans prepared to vote on their controversial health care reform bill to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” James Hohmann of the Washington Post reported, “GOP leadership aides say they are mindful that the bill cannot pass by just one vote. They know that, if that happens, Democrats can run attack ads describing each supporter of the bill as “THE DECIDING VOTE.” So, naturally, the bill passed by two votes.
Sure enough, the House Democrats’ campaign arm as well as outside allies, have already begun running negative ads against vulnerable Republican incumbents casting them as “the deciding vote” for a bill that they claim will result in 24 million Americans losing their health care and making insurance unaffordable for everyone with a medical condition. Forget the nuance required to more thoroughly explain what they mean by all that, the 30-second television spots and 15-second Youtube bumpers are already arriving on screens across the country. Any one of the 59 targeted incumbents could be declared “the deciding vote” and harangued for their legacy-defining decision. It could very well lead to big losses for the Republican majority in 2018.
There is one congressman, however, that probably owns the title of casting “the deciding vote” more than any other. President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan owe a big thank you gift to Michigan Representative Justin Amash. Amash, a libertarian Republican who has regularly voted against continuing resolutions to keep the government funded, reliably votes to cut spending, has never voted to increase spending beyond current baselines, and never even voted in favor of raising the debt ceiling, nonetheless voted for the Republicans’ health care reform bill. It must’ve been quite an intellectual journey for Amash who - like Senator Rand Paul - openly decried the original proposal as “Obamacare 2.0” and responded to outside pressure with reminders that Congress isn’t grade school. Amash is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and helped remove John Boehner from his position as Speaker of the House. If there was one member “the liberty movement” could count on to stand up to Paul Ryan and House leadership, it was Amash.
Known as the Facebook congressman, Representative Amash regularly posts detailed explanations of his votes, including mundane procedural matters. To explain his vote, Amash says, “when deciding whether to support a bill, I ask myself whether the bill improves upon existing law, not whether I would advocate for the policy or program if I were starting with a blank slate. In other words, the proper analysis is not whether it makes the law good but rather whether it makes the law better. In this case, I felt comfortable advancing the bill to the Senate as a marginal improvement to the ACA.” From “full repeal” to “marginal improvement” of the ACA, Amash’s position evolved considerably.
In the Senate, Republicans can only afford to lose two votes. The bill faces immediate pressure from the right from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Utah Senator Mike Lee, and the Justin Amash of the Senate, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. From the center, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore-Capito, and Maine Senator Susan Collins have raised concerns about changes the bill would make to funding for Medicaid.
Perhaps Senate Republicans will come together and advance a bill that satisfies everyone’s demands and earns near-unanimous support, but if they don’t, who’s going to cast the deciding vote? Try as they might to convince observers, moderates and rank-and-file Republicans will not be the greatest threats to passing the final bill. Like Amash’s vote in the House, look to the right.
Ted Cruz has staked his reputation on being the fearless principled conservative that defies the party leadership if it means preserving his conscience. He faces reelection in 2018 and is keen on being in the good graces of Senate leadership and the White House. Could Trump’s charm or threats turn him? Mike Lee is a more demure principled conservative that deftly explains his thoughts and sticks to his positions no matter what. He won’t be charmed or threatened; he was a ‘NeverTrump’ conservative that will expect satisfaction on policy alone. Can the moderates earn his vote if they craft policies in such a way as to satisfy his concerns about intended and unintended consequences? And Rand Paul is a libertarian gadfly that is almost always positioned outside the mainstream. He has his own health care reform bill and will surely expect a vote on it but how much would negotiators have to adopt in order to earn his vote on a final package? Lastly, will another Senator, or more, emerge as a key holdout in the final moments, maybe a visionary like Ben Sasse or an ambitious politician such as Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, or Joni Ernst?
Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, someone will have to cast the deciding vote; the only question is who?
You can follow the author on Twitter @CACoreyU
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