Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to pass a massive overhaul of the U.S. health insurance system that has virtually no support outside of Congress and the White House became even more difficult after the release of a damaging analysis of the legislation from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
And now, with several Republican members voicing opposition to the current proposal, even a vote on a procedural motion to start consideration of the legislation appears destined to fail.
This was not the way the process was supposed to unfold. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican with a famed reputation as a legislative strategist, was expected to have the tactical prowess needed to navigate a slim GOP margin and pass a bill to fulfill the party’s seven-year promise to gut the 2010 health care law.
But he will have no one to blame but himself should the effort fail.
The majority leader has spent the last month crafting a bill in secret, keeping even his closest confidants in the dark about what the final policy would look like. And despite repeated claims that the chamber would be under no specific timeline to advance the legislation, McConnell has plowed forward with an aggressive plan to try to wrap up the Senate’s work on the health care overhaul by the July Fourth recess.
But many of his Republican colleagues are tapping the brakes.
“I have a hard time believing I’ll have the information I will need to want to support a motion to proceed on this,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told reporters Monday. “If Leader McConnell says failure is not an option, don’t set yourself up for failure.”
Johnson is just one in a growing faction of GOP senators who are threatening to withhold their support on the vote just to proceed to the measure. That vote would kick off an expected 20 hours of debate on the bill and tee up a vote on the final legislation by the end of this week.
“I’m a ‘no’ on it unless the bill changes,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said. “I’m not the only ‘no’ on it. I don’t think they have enough to proceed right now.”
Some in GOP leadership hope their colleagues will move the process along, saying the real horse-trading could take place after the underlying measure is pending on the floor.
“It allows us to get on the bill, so, you know, I hope that’s not the case. I think it’s important for us to at least get on the bill and then … through the amendment process, have an opportunity to try and improve it in the direction that they want to go,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota said.
To his credit, McConnell has some room to try to bring on members who might be on the fence. He could, for example, include more money for opioid treatment in a nod to members such as Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
But whether those types of side deals — which the GOP famously criticized the Democrats for pursuing when passing the initial health care law — are enough remains to be seen.
Amid the backlash from the Republican conference, McConnell is also facing growing opposition from outside Capitol Hill. Democrats, Republican governors, doctors, hospitals, health insurers and others are all rising in resistance to the legislation that would rework the law’s current tax credit structure and significantly restrict federal funding to Medicaid over the next several years.
“We sincerely hope that the Senate will take this opportunity to change the course of the current debate and work to fix problems with the current system,” the American Medical Association wrote in a letter sent Monday to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “We believe that Congress should be working to increase the number of Americans with access to quality, affordable health insurance instead of pursuing policies that have the opposite effect.”
Providing ammunition to the opposition, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday estimated that, under the GOP proposal, there would be 22 million more uninsured individuals over the next decade than under the current law’s trajectory. The report also said health insurance costs would rise in 2018 and 2019 under the Republican plan, undercutting a major talking point for the GOP.
“We still have work to do on the bill to lower premiums,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said when asked whether he would vote for a motion to proceed.
Cruz is hoping to add an amendment to the bill that would give states more freedom in the type of insurance plans they offer, a stark difference from the current law that requires insurers to cover a minimum set of medical categories.
Such a measure could repel moderates, who have fought to maintain protections for patients with pre-existing conditions in the bill. It could also run afoul of chamber rules.
Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi told reporters that work has been ongoing for several weeks on addressing regulation concerns raised by senators like Cruz.
“It’s not easy. Some of the things can’t be done,” the Wyoming Republican said when asked about the possibility of such provisions complying with the reconciliation process, which the GOP is using to advance the health care measure.
Enzi repeatedly stressed the limitations imposed by the Congressional Budget Act and the Byrd Rule.
Still, despite the growing opposition from rank-and-file members, some of McConnell’s closest allies remain supportive and engaged in the process.
“Our plan will help address Obamacare’s ballooning costs for consumers by lowering premiums over time and cutting taxes,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said in a statement following the release of the CBO report. “I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues this week as we get closer to finally replacing this failed law with better care at a cost that Texans will be able to afford.”
Niels Lesniewski and Kerry Young contributed to this story.
Candidates and members of Congress are required by law to file personal financial disclosures that are designed to shed a light on their potential conflicts of interest.
These documents show a lawmakers' assets and liabilities, reported in broad ranges. Tax returns, in contrast, provide snapshots of their annual net income, are subject to audit and require taxpayers to report specific amounts.
Transparency advocates have argued that disclosure rules are too broad, enforcement is too lax, and that tax returns could help provide a fuller picture. Here is a look at where the two documents differ.
Tax returns show exact amounts for all sources of income, including wages and investment income for taxpayers, and their spouses — if they file jointly. Personal financial disclosures show ranges of unearned income. While the salaries of members of Congress are public, congressional candidates must disclose their earned income once they raise or spend more than $5,000. Disclosures also show the source, but not the amount, of income earned by a spouse if it exceeds $1,000.
Personal financial disclosures provide ballpark values for cash, stocks, investments, certain trust assets, among others. Tax returns have limited asset disclosure requirements, for example, when stocks or business assets are sold.
Personal financial disclosures provide values of certain personal liabilities in broad ranges, but not including mortgages on a personal residence, personal vehicles or other personal property, and revolving charge accounts with balances over $10,000 at the close of the preceding calendar year. Tax returns largely do not require disclosure of personal liabilities.
Tax returns show the amount of income taxes paid, and the amount and types of deductions and credits taken. This information is not required on a personal financial disclosure.
Tax returns show real estate taxes paid and net income, gains or losses from properties being rented or sold. Personal financial disclosures show the value of property owned, in ranges, not counting a personal residence.
Tax returns list itemized charitable contributions. This is not required on a personal financial disclosure.
Personal financial disclosures show gifts and travel reimbursements.
The most expensive House race in history has come to a close with the Associated Press calling Georgia's 6th District race for GOP candidate Karen Handel over Democrat Jon Ossoff on Tuesday evening.
Here are the last few days of the campaign in photos as captured by Roll Call's photographer:
SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — It’s Election Day in Georgia, so this column goes to print before we know the outcome of the 6th District special election to replace Dr. Tom Price in Congress. But whether Karen Handel, the Republican, pulls off a win or Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, manages an upset, it is well-understood here that the politics of this once solidly Republican district have changed, almost overnight.
The fact that Ossoff became so competitive, so quickly in this race was almost entirely because of Donald Trump. Trump was certainly the reason Democratic activists across the country pumped $20 million into a district where the biggest tourist attraction is a giant red chicken in front of a vintage KFC. Trump was also the reason countless Ossoff volunteers told me they were working for him “because at least it is something I could do” after Trump won in November.
Even local GOP operatives readily admitted that their problem was the president. And for the first time in nearly 40 years, Democrats in the district had a solution in the form of Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional staffer who may well be the prototype for a new kind of Southern Democrat to run against sitting Republicans in the New South.
While rural Democrats such as Sen. Sam Nunn and Gov. and Sen. Zell Miller once dominated Georgia and the South, Democrats were wiped out across the country in 2002 and beyond, including one of my old bosses, former Sen. Max Cleland.
I had also worked for Nunn before Cleland, and I watched over the course of my time in the Senate as Southern Democrats became fewer and fewer. People at home used to tell me they were “Sam Nunn Democrats,” meaning they were socially moderate, fiscally conservative and pro-defense. By the time Cleland lost his race in 2002, people at home wanted to know how I had become so wayward that I ended up “a liberal.”
My politics hadn’t changed, but the Democratic brand had. Instead of meaning a person was pro-business, pro-defense and socially moderate, the term “Southern Democrat” began to mean simply liberal, until it eventually meant something worse — nothing at all. I was so turned off by politics by the 2002 race, I decided to go into journalism, where at least no one would call me names. Oh, well.
As my first act of journalism, I wrote an entire book proposal titled, “Are the Yellow Dogs Done Barking?” Growing up in Georgia, people were known as “Yellow Dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for anyone, even a yellow dog, if he had a “D” by his name on the ballot. My book would be an attempt to find out if Democrats in the South were dead as a governing party forever.
I never took my book proposal to agents in 2003 because the answer seemed so obvious at the time. Republicans had come to so dominate the South, it seemed impossible to envision a day when a Democrat could run even a competitive race statewide, or in the majority-white congressional districts that Republican legislatures had specifically drawn to stay in Republican hands for a generation.
But Ossoff’s campaign marks the first I’ve seen of what I’d call a New Southern Democrat, a different breed of Southern Democrat. But instead of a bird-hunting, Labrador version of the old Yellow Dog Democrat, Ossoff is more Labradoodle, a friendly companion well-suited to living in a (Southern) suburban condo. He’s a Yellow Dog Democrat for millennial voters, the multicultural, entrepreneurial voters who are pouring into Southern suburbs for jobs and schools and voting in a way their senior citizen neighbors never did.
Instead of running as a liberal or a conservative, Ossoff ran a different kind of campaign, tailored to the sort of majority-white, rapidly changing Southern suburban district Democrats will have to win in the future.
Instead of “Stronger Together,” the two words I heard Ossoff say most often on the campaign trail were “humble and kind.” Other than the fact that “Humble and Kind” is literally the title of a country song, it is also the message that resonated with Republican moms I met in the district, who were so bothered by President Trump’s tweeting, they compared their strategies of how they (successfully) kept their children from doing the same.
Ossoff was also very business-focused. His ads talked about how to make the Atlanta suburbs a tech corridor, and went on, at great length, about Washington wasting everybody’s money. Ironically, Ossoff didn’t hammer the president, nor did he talk about Russia. If the Hillary Clinton campaign could say the same, maybe they would all be in the White House instead of on LinkedIn.
Interestingly, Ossoff is just one of a slate of young, new Southern Democrats trying to find a way back into power. Teresa Tomlinson, the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, wrote an op-ed last week for The Daily Beast about being a “pragmatic progressive.” That answer to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative” respects government, works with Republicans, and, according to Tomlinson, “accepts science, technology and fact.” Snaps on that, House GOP.
One of the many criticisms of Ossoff that I’ve heard from Republican leaders in the 6th District is that he is “trying to trick people into thinking he’s a Republican.” They don’t believe what Ossoff is selling — that a person could really be pro-business and socially liberal at the same time. But that is precisely the appeal for the 10 percent of Republicans who voted for Ossoff in the April primary and put him within striking distance to win the seat Tuesday night.
To answer my question 15 years later, no, the Yellow Dogs aren’t done barking.
They don’t look like the old Southern Democrats, but the South doesn’t look the way it used to either. Whichever party figures that out will win in 2018 and beyond.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.
It’s not good to start your tenure in Congress with a misdemeanor assault charge, but that’s where Republican Greg Gianforte finds himself. It also doesn’t mean he is immediately and automatically vulnerable in 2018.
On May 25, Gianforte won a special election to replace Republican Ryan Zinke (who vacated his seat to become secretary of the Interior) in a race that received some national attention but went viral after an altercation between the candidate and a reporter resulted in assault body-slamming allegations and formal charges. Gianforte pleaded guilty on June 12 and narrowly avoided a few days in jail with 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling.
While taking on an incumbent member of Congress with legal problems looks enticing (particularly since two-thirds of special election voters cast their ballots early, before the incident), it won’t be an easy road for Democrats in Montana next year.
Rob Quist’s 44 percent in the recent special election was the best showing of any Democratic U.S. House candidate in Montana since 2000. And Donald Trump just trounced Hillary Clinton in the state by 21 points last fall.
Democrats are still determined to field a credible challenger to Gianforte. The early speculation is focused on state Reps. Amanda Curtis and Kelly McCarthy, according to a June 2 piece by Robert Yoon for Inside Elections. Both legislators lost the 2017 nomination to Quist in a contest that was decided by local party members instead of in a primary. Curtis was also the 2014 nominee for U.S. Senate against then-Rep. Steve Daines, who won the seat 58 percent to 40 percent.
Other previous House hopefuls mentioned as possible 2018 contenders are John Lewis, a former aide to Sen. Max Baucus, who lost the seat to Republican Ryan Zinke in 2014, and Dan West, a former Capitol Hill staffer and Obama administration appointee at NASA, who also sought the 2017 nomination.
Democrats will need a solid candidate because the party can’t count on Gianforte’s assault charge overcoming the partisan lean of the state.
In April 2014, New York Republican Rep. Michael G. Grimm was indicted on 20 counts of fraud and conspiracy. He won re-election that fall, 55 percent to 42 percent, in the state’s 11th District, which President Barack Obama carried by 4 points in the previous election. Grimm resigned in January 2015 after his conviction.
Further back in August 2005, the FBI raided Louisiana Rep. William J. Jefferson’s home on suspicion of corruption. Agents found $90,000 in cash wrapped in aluminum foil in the Democrat’s freezer. But the congressman won re-election the following year, 57 percent to 43 percent over then-state Rep. Karen Carter, a fellow Democrat. It wasn’t until six months later that Jefferson was indicted on corruption charges. But he still won the Democratic renomination in 2008 before narrowly losing in the general election, 49.6 percent to 46.8 percent to Republican Ahn “Joseph” Cao.
There is still time for the dust to settle in Montana and for there to be more clarity about the national political climate, but Gianforte will start his 2018 re-election race with an advantage. The initial Inside Elections race rating in Montana’s at-large district is Leans Republican.