A Remarkable Legislative Debacle
When I first heard that House Leadership was going to go to the floor with the AHCA without knowing if they had the votes or not I was more than a bit surprised. Either, I thought, the report is wrong in some way or Speaker Ryan was taking an insane (and bush league) gamble. Turns out its bush league on Capitol Hill.
It has to be underscored: the way the House operates is that major legislation of this type (i.e., not the result of an emergency or because of a legal deadline) only makes it to the floor if leadership wants it there. This is a key power of the Speaker through his influence over the Rules Committee, as well as other factors that accrue to the majority party. As such, the only reason that the Republicans and the Trump administration suffered the major defeat that they did was because they loaded the legislative gun, pointed it at their own heads, and pulled the trigger themselves.
It is one thing for the Trump administration to be acting like amateurs, because for the most part that is exactly what they are. It is, however, surprising that Ryan and and House leadership was this, well, stupid (I tried to find a more elegant term, but the mind kept going to “stupid”). It appears that the whole reason they wanted the vote when they scheduled it was it was the anniversary of the passage of the PPACA, and so they just couldn’t resist the symbolism of it all. Symbolism is important in politics, I will allow, but allowing it to drive a major decision is utterly foolish (especially since most people don’t exactly have the PPACA’s birthday circled on their calendars).
Indeed, since good, well-thought out policy was clearly not the goal here (it clearly isn’t for the President, who just wants to sign something to say that he did) then it is a special kind of failure not to be able to put together something that the House could pass. Keep in mind: because of the filibuster the Republicans are limited to what they can repeal anyway (they have to limit changes to items that can be pushed through via the budget reconciliation process, since items via that process cannot be filibustered).
I am not an expert on the legislative history of the United States, so I may be forgetting something, but I cannot think of an example of a bill of this nature failing in this kind of self-inflicted fashion. The closest examples I can think of are the first Clinton budget and Medicare Part D. The Clinton budget came down to the wire, vote-wise, although, that was very different situation because a) it passed, and b) it came to the floor not through the contrivance of the majority party, but because of a set calendar. Medicare Part D did require some last minute maneuvers with the rules to squeeze out a victory, but that was, at least, a victory for the Republicans. Still, had it failed it would not have failed after seven years of promises by the party and a year of campaigning by the sitting president.
Regardless of one’s policy preferences or partisan affiliations, it should be understood that this entire series of events highlights the amateur nature of the Trump administration, and a number of profound problems within the GOP.
In regards to Trump, this set of events should bring into sharp focus that he is exactly what he appears to be: a celebrity huckster who believes his own hype about what a great deal-maker he is. He is not playing some byzantine political game, but rather does seem to think that he can apply the same tactics a real estate agent can play to induce a sale, such as threatening to walk away or to sell to another buyer. He clearly seem to think that his threat in the middle of the process to walk away from the AHCA was going to induce his “buyers” to panic and sign on the dotted line. That isn’t how legislation works, especially when the party is fractured on how to proceed.
Meanwhile, the Republicans face an interesting internal division that undercuts the way the majority party usually operates. But, too, the party leadership seems to either not understand the coalitional nature of its own party, or it lacks the needed skill to work the needed internal deals such a situation requires.
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