The GOP’s hurry-up-and-give-up cycle on Obamacare hasn’t served it well. Congressional Republicans would have been much better off setting out deliberately from the beginning and accepting that trying to pass such momentous legislation would take most of the year, at best. Then, they could have worked through the various political and substantive tensions, thought through the policy carefully, and built a public case. Instead, every effort has been vulnerable to process complaints from within the party and—in the constant rush to pass the bill—there has never been a concerted campaign of public persuasion. The latest bout with Graham-Cassidy is just another instance of Republicans losing the public argument in a rout (although Graham himself has been an effective advocate).
On top of this, the reconciliation process has been a significant burden. People tend to sneer when Trump calls for eliminating the filibuster, pointing out that it would still take 50 votes to pass a health-care bill, the same threshold as under reconciliation. But reconciliation has contributed to the incoherence of the GOP bills by making it impossible to repeal some of Obamacare’s regulations. And, in the push for Graham-Cassidy, reconciliation has created the artificial deadline of September 30 and made it difficult to horse-trade and accept improvements to the bill because changes may make it impossible for the CBO to score the bill by that deadline.
Maybe the political will is not there regardless. Given the choice between holding his nose and advancing a major ideological and policy goal of his party, or making his process concerns paramount and turning his back on the party, John McCain has now done the latter twice. The bill is hanging by a thread and it’s hard to see how someone else doesn’t come out against it. If so, it will be a sorry end to a sorry legislative chapter.