Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing questions about his leadership after the Obamacare repeal debacle. Many Republican senators are criticizing McConnell’s strategy of crafting the bill in secret without input from members of the GOP caucus.
Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a consistent no vote on health care reform, said that she was often in the dark about what the most current version of the bill contained and lamented that she didn’t have time to study the draft legislation before voting.
In a situation reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s statement that Congress needed to vote on Obamacare to see what was in it, Murkowski told The Hill that, under McConnell, it was like “It’s 10 o’clock and we’re going to vote on it in two hours, what do you think, gang?”
John McCain (R-Ariz.), who cast the deciding vote to kill the healthcare bill, cited the secrecy surrounding the drafting of the bill as a reason to vote against it. McCain said in a statement, “We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.”
Other senators agreed with Murkowski’s criticism of the closed-door drafting of the legislation. In June, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a Facebook video, “Even though I’ve been a member of this working group among Senate Republicans assigned to help narrow some of the focus of this, I haven’t seen the bill.”
“And it has become increasingly apparent in the last few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Lee continued. “It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate.”
Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went further a few weeks later. After a report by the Washington Post that McConnell told moderate Republicans that Medicaid cuts in the bill would not happen because they are so far into the future, Johnson told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that McConnell’s comments were a “breach of trust.”
Even without arousing the anger and suspicion of Republican senators, there was always a narrow window to pass an Obamacare reform bill. The Republican majority of only two votes meant that McConnell “needed to pitch a perfect game,” one senator told The Hill. “Unfortunately, he pitched a two-hitter,” the senator continued.
The criticism doesn’t mean that McConnell’s leadership will be challenged anytime soon. No Republicans are stepping up to contest the Kentucky Republican’s position at the helm of the Senate. As Republican failures mount, that could change.
It is widely expected that the next step for the GOP is to tackle tax reform, an issue that faces many of the same challenges as healthcare reform. If Republicans use the budget reconciliation to avoid a Democrat filibuster, permanent changes would have to be scored as not adding to the deficit by the Congressional Budget Office. As with the healthcare bill, Republican moderates will be under intense pressure from the media and Democrats and it will only take three Republican defections to kill the bill since no Democrats are expected to vote yes.
After six months of stinging defeats in Congress, Republicans badly need a legislative victory to shore up the conservative base. Republican voters are angry at what they see as a betrayal of one of the party’s core promises. If Republicans can show no results from their majorities in both houses of Congress, Republican voters may stay home in November 2018. That could imperil McConnell’s position as majority leader even more surely than a revolt among Republican senators.