In the dead of night, Republican senators unveiled and voted on the Health Care Freedom Act, the so-called “skinny repeal” bill that was anything but skinny. On Thursday night, the CBO released a score of the HCFA based on details of the bill that had been held in secret by garbage rat king Mitch McConnell until mere hours before the vote. The CBO’s estimate showed that 15 million people would have been thrown off their insurance next year, and 16 million by 2026. Premiums in the individual marketplace would have gone up by 20 percent.
Ultimately, early Friday morning, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins voted the bill down, which crashed and burned in a 49-to-51 vote. The suspense all came from McCain, who wouldn’t tell reporters what he had decided, telling them instead to “watch the show.” If any one of those senators had changed their mind, repeal would have gone through, with Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
While HCFA was ultimately defeated, it’s hard to overstate how broken this entire process has become. Republicans were voting on a bill that they explicitly stated was so terrible that they did not want to see it actually go into effect. Paul Ryan had to promise that the bill would go to conference committee and that the House would negotiate with the Senate to reach a compromise to improve the bill. But Ryan’s commitments were ambiguous, and it sure looked like the House was gearing up to pass a straight-up “skinny” repeal. If McCain had caved, Republican leaders would have been able to present the “skinny” bill as a fait accompli.
From the beginning, McConnell did everything he could to make the process as opaque and undemocratic as possible—to the public, to Democrats, even to his own caucus. He knew that secrecy was the only way he would have even the slightest chance of getting his monster through the system. In an incredible moment on the floor last night that illustrated just how fast McConnell was trying to jam this bill through, Senator Patty Murray tried to interrupt Senator Mike Enzi to ask more questions about the bill, which had only been made public an hour earlier. Enzi replied that her time would probably be better spent in reading the bill.
When it looked like they were about to get to 50 votes, Republicans shuttled in homophobic lego man Mike Pence to possibly cast the tie-breaking vote. It would have been Pence’s fifth tie-breaker in his first six months; Joe Biden, his predecessor, cast a total of exactly zero tie-breaking votes in eight years. And let’s not forget that Republicans had to fly John McCain back to Washington after he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor to even have a chance at getting this bill passed.
Our country is being run by a bunch of lunatics who are playing games with real peoples’ lives. McCain, Collins, and Murkowski have already been hailed by Democrats as heroes. But things could have easily gone the other way. How many Americans even know that the entire health care system was close to being overhauled in the middle of the damn night? The decision to upend millions of people’s lives should not have rested on the norm-upholding whims of a guy with a brain tumor.