The Bottom of the Ninth

It’s summer. Think baseball. Think of the first game of the 1988 World Series, October 15, 1988, at Dodger Stadium here in Los Angeles. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers are down one run to the Oakland guys, and down to their last out. They have a man on second – the tying run – but they’re going to lose. That was too little too late, but Tommy Lasorda sends a pitch hitter to the plate – Kirk Gibson – who can hardly walk – two bad legs. He’s been out of the lineup for weeks. He hadn’t even been in the dugout. The crowd goes wild. Gibson, who had played the previous nine seasons with the Detroit Tigers, had become the Dodgers’ leader – he was a great guy. Everyone loved him, and he had led the team with 25 home runs, a .290 batting average and 31 stolen bases, but no one expected they’d see him again that year.

He hobbled up to the plate. He took a few pitches – it wasn’t looking good – and then he hit that two-run home run off Dennis Eckersley that won the game. There he was, pumping his fist in the air, circling the bases as best he could – one of the greatest home runs of all time – but that was it. He sat out the rest of the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers won the series anyway – but Kirk Gibson had saved the day. Baseball fans know these things.

Of course it’s the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, for the Republicans these days. They can’t pass any major legislation for President Trump. In the House, they finally passed a healthcare bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a bill that everyone hated – even Donald Trump, who called it “mean” – and sent that off to the Senate. It was still a loser, so Mitch McConnell grabbed a dozen old Senate white guys and wrote a new bill, behind closed doors, in secret, so no one would bitch about things and slow down the process. That was a loser too, even meaner, and McConnell couldn’t even whip up the votes for a motion to proceed – that bill never made it to the Senate floor for debate, much less for a vote. Conservative Republicans – from strict libertarians like Rand Paul to the no-to-everything Tea Party crowd – hated it. It kept too much of Obamacare. It didn’t get rid of everything. Moderate Republicans – or at least those from states with lots of people on Medicaid – saw the massive cuts to Medicaid and would have nothing to do with that. The idea that at least twenty-two million Americans would be losing health insurance bothered them a bit too. Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

McConnell’s bill was dead too – or at least it was the bottom of the ninth with two outs – and tempers were flaring:

A Republican House member thinks the GOP women of the Senate are to blame for Congress’ inability to address Obamacare.

Appearing on a Corpus Christi radio station Friday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) not only suggested that it was Republican women’s fault that the party is fractured on how to get rid of Obamacare, but also said if it was “a guy from south Texas” at the center of the disagreement, he might ask them to resolve their issues with a gun fight.

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me. Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the Northeast,” he said, likely referring to Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who has been vocal about her opposition to each of the Senate’s health plans from the start.

And he knows his history:

Farenthold suggested if it were a man from his state blocking the repeal bill, he might ask him to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” he said, referencing the famed gun duel between the former vice president and Alexander Hamilton, a former secretary of the Treasury who had longstanding political differences. The gun fight ended in Hamilton’s death.

The GOP congressman voted in favor of the GOP’s health care plan that made it through though the House in May. He told NPR in an interview in March that he supported the bill because he ran on repealing Obamacare.

A little man’s fantasies about shooting uppity women aside, this was the general idea here, but there was a bigger voice:

President Donald Trump on Monday applied pressure on Senate Republicans to support a procedural vote on an Obamacare repeal bill – even though Senate leadership hasn’t yet specified which bill senators will be asked to advance on Tuesday.

After a hiccup 22 words into remarks from the White House – Trump said Americans had been living with Obamacare as law “for the past 17 years,” not seven – the President discussed the stories of families gathered behind him at the White House and blamed Democrats for passing Obamacare despite “lies” about what it could achieve.

Most of his remarks, though, seemed designed to pressure Republican senators on the fence about the Obamacare repeal effort – which began with Senate leadership drafting a bill that included deep long term cuts to Medicaid in secret.

That didn’t matter to President Trump:

“For the last seven years Republicans have been united in standing up for Obamacare’s victims,” Trump said. “Remember: repeal and replace, repeal and replace? They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law. We as a party must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters of this country to repeal and replace, what they’ve been saying for the last seven years.”

Senate Republicans, he said, now had a chance “to keep their promise.”

In short, this really is the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, for the Republicans now down a run and likely to lose the game. Long ago, Tommy Lasorda called on Kirk Gibson to save the day. Mitch McConnell just called on their injured Kirk Gibson:

The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who could provide the critical vote to start debate on the bill even as he announced last week that he is suffering from brain cancer.

In a bit of drama, McCain said Monday night that he will return to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to vote on whether to start debate on the health-care bill. The senator had been recuperating from surgery in Arizona.

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” McCain’s office said in a statement.

It is unclear, however, if McCain’s return will improve Republicans’ prospects of passing a key procedural hurdle to move the health-care bill forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted he intends to hold a vote to start debate on health care on Tuesday – even though its prospects are murky at best.

It may be that McCain will hit that home run. He’s from Arizona. Kirk Gibson managed the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few years after his playing days were over. Maybe the two of them know each other, but Tierney Sneed, reporting for Talking Points Memo, notes that no one seems to know if they’re even playing the same game:

As the Senate GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act reaches its supposed apex this week, a remarkable amount remains unknown – even to Republican senators. But what is close to a given is that whatever happens, the effort will likely fail.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week indicated that he was sticking to his plans to hold a vote Tuesday to open the debate on a health care bill. But neither of the two repeal-proposals he has floated – a repeal-and-delay bill and the Obamacare replacement legislation the GOP has been negotiating – has enough support to pass.

Senate Republicans left town Thursday unclear which of the proposals would serve as the base for the final vote, which would likely come a couple of days after Tuesday’s initial procedural vote.

It’s Abbott and Costello – Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third, and I Don’t Care is the shortstop.

It’s just not that funny:

“I don’t think that’s a good approach to facing legislation that affects millions of people and one sixth of our economy,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), an opponent of both delayed repeal and the current Obamacare replacement, said Sunday on CBS’ Face The Nation.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No 3 in Senate GOP leadership, said on Fox News Sunday that which bill they go forward with is a decision that “Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go.”

I Don’t Know is playing third here:

Those on the right skeptical of the repeal efforts have signaled they would vote to open the debate Tuesday if they were later allowed to vote on the repeal-and-delay bill.

“I have told them I will vote for a motion to proceed if we’re proceeding to the clean repeal vote,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said on CNN Sunday.

The problem for leaders with that plan is that just as many Republicans oppose repeal-and-delay. When McConnell first announced last week the prospect of voting on that bill instead of the replacement legislation, three senators – Collins, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) — quickly came out in opposition to that plan, making it also dead on arrival.

“I don’t think that it’s a responsible way to repeal something, have everything fall off a cliff … and have no plan in front of us,” Capito said on a local radio show last week. “I don’t think the U.S. Congress does too well with deadlines. I don’t think that’s when good policy comes forward.”

And there was this:

Another wrench was thrown in the Republicans’ effort last week with the “guidance” the Senate parliamentarian handed down Friday suggesting that key pieces of the legislation would need Democratic votes to pass. From a policy level, the biggest setback was her singling out of the continuous coverage requirement Republicans have in their replacement bill; if Republicans can’t rework it to comply with Senate rules, the individual market would not function under their replacement plan. Politically, her rulings against anti-abortion provisions put conservative support in jeopardy, while her ruling against a New York-specific measure spells trouble for GOP leaders trying to win over hesitant senators with state-specific carve-outs in their bill.

And this:

The only real shot GOP leaders have for winning final passage is complicated. First, they must win Tuesday’s procedural vote. Then that could buy them the opportunity to shore up support for the replacement legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, either through amendments or more assurances to skittish senators.

McConnell, in remarks after Senate GOP lunch with President Trump last week, stressed his desire for Republicans at least to get through this initial vote.

President Trump’s top officials at the Health and Human Services Department – Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma – have hosted extensive meetings with a number of Republicans to convince them the bill’s steep Medicaid cuts could be mitigated through administrative action.

Regardless, if McConnell can run the table on the wavering moderates – besides Collins, who did not even attend a high profile meeting with Price and Verma last week – he would still need the votes of Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to pass the replacement bill, assuming McCain is not back from his treatment to vote.

Lee told Politico last week he was willing to be the decisive vote to tank the replacement bill for not going far enough to repeal Obamacare. A Lee spokesman told TPM Monday that he had not received any indication from Senate leaders that the change to the bill Lee requested has been made.

Paul, on Sunday, called the replacement bill a “monstrosity.”

No home run will fix any of that, which David Kurtz summarizes this way:

Senate Republicans still don’t know which Obamacare repeal bill they’ll be voting on this week, or when. The votes don’t seem to be there for either of the two main options under consideration: “repeal and delay” or “repeal and replace.” And yet they’re not dead either. Both options strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions, but the Senate GOP is trundling along as if it’s no big deal that they don’t know what they’re going to vote on.

Mitch McConnell seems to be calculating that if he can get a majority to vote as soon as tomorrow on a motion to proceed, which would kick off debate on a bill, he can pressure his conference with a combination of amendments, side deals and strong arming to get some bill – ANY bill – passed. All in all, it’s probably not a bad strategy. He hasn’t been able to make that work before now, but it may be the only viable strategy left.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman finds that strategy disgusting:

Cynicism is seldom completely absent from the operation of politics, but this is truly a unique situation. Republicans are set to remake one-sixth of the American economy, threaten the economic and health security of every one of us and deprive tens of millions of people of health-care coverage, all with a bill they haven’t seen, couldn’t explain and don’t even bother to defend on its merits.

Why? Because they made a promise to their base and now they say they have to keep it – regardless of what form keeping the promise might take and how much misery it might cause.

Tomorrow, the Senate is set to vote on a Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. What Republican bill? The senators themselves don’t even know.

He cites what Susan Collins said on Face the Nation:

It appears that we will have a vote on Tuesday. But we don’t whether we’re going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act now, and then said that somehow we will figure out a replacement over the next two years.

This really is that Abbott and Costello baseball skit, but Waldman sees nothing funny here:

I’ve often argued that Republicans in Congress aren’t serious about policy, but this is taking their un-seriousness to the level of farce. After complaining for years that the ACA was “rammed through” Congress – in a process that involved a full year of debate, dozens of hearings in both houses and 188 Republican amendments to the bill debated and accepted – they’re going to vote on a sweeping bill that had zero hearings and that they saw only hours before, because who cares what’s in it? It’s only the fate of the country at stake. If taking away health-care coverage from 20 million or 30 million Americans is what it takes to stave off a primary challenge from some nutball tea partier, then that’s what they’ll do.

There’s no excuse for that:

No one would argue that keeping promises isn’t important. But Republicans have elevated the idea of keeping their promise to repeal the ACA to the point where it’s drained of all substance. You can see it in the way they talk about the various iterations of their bill. You seldom hear a Republican defend it on the terms of the bill itself. They don’t say, “Here’s how this bill will bring down deductibles” or “Here’s how the bill will take care of those who lose their insurance” or “Here’s how the bill will lower costs.” That’s partly because their bills won’t do any of those things, but mostly because they just don’t care.

Instead, what they say is, “We made a promise, and we’re going to keep it.” If Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) handed them a bill saying that all children on Medicaid would be taken to the desert, buried up to their necks in the sand, and covered in fire ants, at least 40 of them would say, “It may not be perfect, but we have to keep the promise we made to repeal Obamacare, so I’m voting yes.”

That’s a bit overdramatic, but maybe not:

For those few Republican senators with a hint of conscience – or whose states are particularly reliant on the ACA, and on Medicaid in particular – McConnell is trying to hand them a fig leaf they can use to justify their votes. But the goodies he’s offering are laughable. Consider, for instance, that McConnell is telling senators that he’ll put in $200 billion to help states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Sounds generous, until you realize that’s on top of over $750 billion in Medicaid cuts. It’s like saying, “I’m stealing your car, but here, you can keep the spare tire.”

The same is true of the $45 billion over a decade they’re tossing in to address the opioid crisis. Many of the states hardest hit by that crisis are ones such as Ohio and West Virginia that are most dependent on Medicaid. So for them, the Republican bill would take $15 or $20 away from the program most central to treating the addicts in their state, but toss a dollar back to make up for it. People who work with state budgets and addiction treatment have been telling anyone who’ll listen that given the magnitude of this crisis, $4.5 billion a year is a joke. But it might be enough to allow a couple of Republicans in the Senate to claim they aren’t making the problem dramatically worse, which is exactly what they’d be doing.

There’s more, but Waldman sums it up with this:

What you’d expect of leaders is to say, “Okay, there are a bunch of interlocking, complex problems we want to solve here. This has to be done carefully. Let’s take our time and make sure we get it right.” But that’s not what Republicans are saying. Instead, they’re saying “We have to vote on a bill now, even if we don’t know what it’s in it and even if it makes the problems we claim to care about impossibly worse, so we can say that we repealed Obamacare.” Sure, it would be bad to kick 20 million or 30 million people off their coverage – but not as bad as having to admit they failed to pass a bill!

This is even less serious and more cynical than what they’ve been doing for the past seven years. When they held dozens of votes in the House to repeal the ACA, it may have been silly, but at least it didn’t hurt anyone. Now they have the power to affect people’s lives by the millions – even destroy them – and they can’t be bothered to spend more than a day or two figuring out how to do it.

That’s the plan, and a New York Times backgrounder spells out the details:

If that vote succeeds, the Senate would then be able to consider numerous amendments, including complete substitutes for the House bill. But it remains unclear what would take its place, and Senate Republican leaders have not said which substitute measure would be considered first.

Under one possible series of events, Mr. McConnell could quickly move to replace the House bill with an entirely new measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.

If that amendment vote fails, as it most likely would, he could move to replace the House bill with a version of the proposal he has been refining for weeks: to repeal the health law while also replacing it.

That’s as clear as mud:

Democrats were incredulous.

“We are potentially one or two days away from a vote on a bill that would reorganize one-sixth of the American economy, impacting tens of millions of American lives, and no one knows what it is,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “It’s sort of like Alice in Wonderland around here.”

No, it’s more like that famous Abbott and Costello baseball skit, but there is this:

What they will vote on will not matter if senators oppose beginning debate. Mr. McConnell can lose only two Senate Republicans, now that Mr. McCain intends to be in the chamber.

Collins of Maine is certain to vote no on the procedural vote, Capito of West Virginia and Murkowski of Alaska will not vote to proceed if it’s repeal without replacement, so McCain may not matter. He can come in and hit that home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and stumble around the bases pumping his first in the air, but the tying run won’t be on base when he hits it out of the park. Who’s on first? No one is, really, and this isn’t baseball anyway. Baseball fans know these things too. Baseball is just a game. This isn’t.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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