Steve Bannon Declares War On Republicans

With a call for one sitting Republican senator to resign and announcement that he plans to back primary challengers for nearly every sitting Republican in the Senate, Steve Bannon, former White House strategist and past and present chairman of Breitbart News, has effectively declared war on the Republican Party. While ostensibly still backing President Trump, Bannon’s effort also includes challengers to some Trump allies.

Bannon’s primary target at the moment is Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). After Corker and Trump engaged in a flame war on Twitter over the weekend, Bannon called for the Tennessean to resign for his disloyalty to President Trump. In a tweet, Corker, who is not running for re-election,  likened the White House to a “day care center” and said in a New York Times interview that President Trump acted “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something” and that his lack of diplomatic skills could put the world “on the path to World War III.”

“If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately,” Bannon told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“This is what they think about President Trump behind closed doors,” Bannon added. “He happened to tell The New York Times exactly what he thought, it’s totally unacceptable. In a time of war, we have troops in Afghanistan, in the Northwest pacific and Korea. We have a major problem that could be like World War I in the South China Sea. In the Persian Gulf, we have American lives at risk every day.”

That Bannon equates Corker’s comments with all Republican incumbents provides insight into why he plans to try to unseat practically every Republican senator. The Washington Post notes that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is reportedly the only senator who will not be fending off a Bannon-backed challenger, but a CNN source said, “Nobody’s safe.” Cruz was a favorite of Bannon’s Breitbart until Donald Trump usurped that role. Cruz angered many Trump supporters with his long-delayed endorsement of Donald Trump and his heated exchanges with Trump in the primary.

Breitbart quotes Andy Surabian, a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance and ex-White House aide, who said, “We’re planning on building a broad anti-establishment coalition to replace the Republican Party of old with fresh new blood and fresh new ideas.” The site notes that the Great America Alliance is a “pro-Trump Super PAC.”

The Breitbart article also quotes Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who said, “The conservative tidal wave that carried Donald Trump into the White House may soon be eclipsed by what appears to be a conservative tsunami that threatens the [Republican] establishment death grip on the U.S. Senate.”

Much of the antipathy to the “establishment” Republicans seems to stem from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) refusal to end the filibuster and change Senate rules to allow passage of bills with a simple majority, commonly referred to as the “nuclear option.” President Trump urged McConnell to change Senate rules in a tweet in August. Mr. McConnell told Politico in April, “There’s not a single senator in the majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster. Not one.”

Surabian hinted at the “nuclear option” when he noted, “The group of candidates we are looking to support in 2018 are all bound together in their agreement that the new Republican Party must be bold in their thinking and aggressive in their tactics.”

Bannon’s tactics have potential downsides. If his candidates defeat Republican incumbents in the primary, they still must win the general election. This could present a problem for some Bannon-backed candidates, particularly in moderate states. President Trump alluded to this risk in deep red Alabama when he campaigned for incumbent Luther Strange (R-Ala.) against primary challenger Roy Moore, who was supported by Bannon. With a slim majority of only two seats, Bannon’s war against Republican incumbents could tip the Senate to the Democrats.

A second problem is that, if Bannon’s plan succeeds and the filibuster is killed permanently, Democrats would have the same advantages the next time they are in power. President Trump’s agenda could be passed more easily without the cloture rule, but it would also be easier for the next Democrat majority to repeal Trump’s reforms and enact their own leftist agenda.

Bannon’s frontal assault on sitting Republicans brings the GOP civil war into the open. Trump supporters like Bannon are attempting to purge the party of traditional Republicans who represent the “establishment,” regardless of voting records or conservative credentials. CNN notes that even John Barasso (R-Wy.), typically considered a Trump ally, is a target of Bannon’s effort.

It is normally very difficult to unseat incumbents, but 2018 may be different. There may be additional retirements that leave open seats vulnerable to Bannon’s candidates. Further, polling shows that President Trump is far more popular among Republicans than congressional leaders. If Republican voters back primary challengers supported by Bannon and President Trump over party incumbents, it will signal a permanent shift in the direction of the Republican Party.

AHCA May Be Best Chance to Replace Obamacare In Our Lifetime

The House of Representatives finally passed a bill to gut Obamacare and many conservatives are upset. Admittedly the bill is not full repeal. It is far from perfect. If I was going to write a health care reform plan, the American Health Care Act would not be it. Still, I’m very glad that the House passed the bill and I fervently hope that the Senate moves the legislation forward. Why? Because it is the only health care reform that has any chance of passing.

Many myths have grown up around Obamacare and the Republican repeal and replace effort. Over time, we have forgotten that Obamacare was not passed by a budget reconciliation. “HR 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” was passed on Christmas Eve 2009 after a cloture vote by 60 Democrats ended a Republican filibuster. It was a traditional bill that requires a traditional bill to repeal.

So, what was the controversy about the budget reconciliation? After Scott Brown (R-Mass.) was elected to the Senate, the Democrats could no longer break Republican filibusters. If the Democrat-controlled House amended the ACA, it would be subject to another cloture vote, which the Democrats would lose. The answer was to have the House pass the bill unchanged and use the budget reconciliation process to pass a second bill, “HR 4872, The Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act,” by a simple majority vote. This bill was subject to the same limitations that the GOP now faces in passing their own budget reconciliation.

Even though Republicans hold the presidency and control both houses of Congress, they were not granted a blank check by voters. A full repeal would require 60 votes for cloture in the Senate and there are only 52 Republicans. The mathematical problem is obvious.

But what about the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama, you may ask. Republicans didn’t have 60 votes in 2015 either, but they passed a repeal bill then. Why can’t they do it now?

The answer is that the 2015 repeal bill was not a full repeal either. The 2015 bill, was also a reconciliation bill that carried the unwieldy title, “HR 3762 To Provide for Reconciliation Pursuant to Section 2002 of the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2016.” The text of the bill states in Section 102 that the ACA “is amended,” not repealed.

If the 2015 bill was better that the AHCA of 2017, it is for two reasons. First, there were 54 Republicans in the 114th Congress where there are only 52 now. The GOP could afford to lose more votes in the Senate in 2015 that it can today.

Second, four Republican senators who voted for the 2015 bill now say that they won’t vote for a bill that does not provide for a phase out of the Medicaid expansion. Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio,) Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) refuse to back the same bill that they voted for two years ago. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted against the 2015 bill and would presumably do so again. Other Republicans are reluctant to repeal the popular provision concerning pre-existing conditions. It is these five senators and House moderates, not the Republican leadership or President Trump that are forcing a more watered-down version of the bill.

Some conservatives suggest that Republicans should get rid of the filibuster to pass a repeal. We wouldn’t need 60 votes then and the Democrats will probably kill it anyway the next time they have a majority, they argue.

The problem with this strategy is that full repeal could not even win a simple majority vote. The five Republican defectors in the Congress and the Tuesday Group of 50 Republican moderates in the House would kill it.

Removing the filibuster would also mean that Democrats would only need simple majorities to replace Republican health care reform with a national single-payer system the next time they control both houses of Congress and the presidency. It would also usher in a host of other bad ideas from gun control to a higher minimum wage to higher taxes to onerous regulations on practically everything. It is true that Democrats might one day choose to remove the filibuster, but it is certain that if Republicans remove it now, for no strategic reason, Democrats will have a field day when they return to power.

What, then, are the options for Republicans on Obamacare? One option is to wait and hope for a filibuster-proof majority. If you favor this option, be aware that the last time that Republicans had a 60-vote majority was the 61st Congress from 1909 to 1911. It is extremely likely that before the Republicans get a supermajority, Obamacare will implode, health insurance premiums will skyrocket, insurance companies will cancel policies and hell will freeze over. I have little doubt that if Republicans hold out for the perfect, full repeal bill that I will die of old age with Obamacare still intact. (I’m only 45.)

Waiting until 2018 might give the Republicans a few more votes to craft a better compromise. It is also possible that two years into the Trump Administration, voters might deliver a rebuke to Republicans in the form of Democrat majority in either the House or Senate that makes any sort of conservative impossible. In any event, it is doubtful that the numbers would change enough in the GOP’s favor to justify putting off a cornerstone promise of the campaign for two years. The longer Republicans wait to take action, the more entrenched Obamacare will become.

A better option is to take baby steps toward the full repeal of Obamacare starting now with the AHCA. The current bill has the support of moderates as well as the Freedom Caucus and has decent chance of becoming law. While far from ideal, it is a reasonable bill that can hopefully be improved further in its journey through the Senate. Even if it became law in its current form it would mark a vast improvement over Obamacare.

The Republican reform bill should not be viewed as a final step, but as a first step toward total repeal. Without a supermajority, it may take years of nibbling at the edges of Obamacare to fully repeal the behemoth, but conservatives have to start somewhere. The logical place to start is the bill that has the support of the two disparate factions of the GOP. The only bill that has a chance of becoming law.

Conservatives must decide whether it is worth trading a chance to gut Obamacare now to wait for a perfect bill in the distant future. The answer should be obvious. We should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of good and the possible.

Seize the day and start saving American healthcare!

 

 

 

How Obamacare Was Passed – And Why It Can’t Be Repealed By Reconciliation

 

A common question since President Trump took office is why Republicans can’t simply repeal the entire Affordable Care Act with a budget reconciliation. The Democrats passed it that way, the argument goes, so why should Republicans have to worry about filibusters, cloture votes and the arcane rules of the Senate when they try to repeal Obamacare?

The most obvious reason is that with the four Republican Senators who are holding out to preserve the Medicaid expansion, Republicans don’t even have a simple majority that would vote for a clean repeal. The Medicaid Four, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, vowed to oppose any repeal and replace bill that did not allow a phase out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

A more technical reason is that Obamacare was not passed with a budget reconciliation. Not exactly anyway.

At the beginning of the 111th Congress in 2009, Democrats held 58 seats in the Senate. The wave election of 2008 had given them a majority that was just short of filibuster proof. Then the Democrats got two lucky – or at least underhanded – breaks. First, in what is often considered to be a stolen election, Al Franken unseated Republican Norm Coleman in a hotly contested recount. Second, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) switched his party affiliation to Democrat in April 2009. Suddenly, the Democrats had the 60 votes necessary to stop a Republican filibuster in its tracks.

Specter’s defection set the stage for the Senate to pass the Affordable Care Act. On December 23, 2009, the Senate voted to end debate on the bill. The next day, Christmas Eve, the Senate passed the bill in a strict party line vote with every Republican voting “no.” The bill then went to the House of Representatives.

The next month, the Democrats faced a setback when Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) died suddenly. In a special election widely interpreted to be a referendum on the health care bill, Scott Brown defeated the heavily favored Democrat candidate and broke the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority.

What saved the Democrats was the fact that the House and Senate had negotiated most of their differences prior to the introduction of the bill into the Senate. To win over the final few House Democrats, the Democrat leadership urged them to pass the Senate bill with no changes and then pass a second bill via the reconciliation process. If the Senate bill was passed without changes, it would avoid going to conference and being subjected to a second Republican filibuster attempt before a final vote. The reconciliation bill, although its content would be restricted to tax, spending and debt limit legislation by Senate rules, would also not be subject to a filibuster.

After President Obama signed an Executive Order that purported to ensure that federal funds would not be used for abortion, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and the last few Democrat holdouts signed onto the bill. The promise not to fund abortion was broken almost immediately.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by the House without amendment on March 21, 2010 and went directly to the president’s desk. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 was passed by both Houses of Congress on March 25, 2010. President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23 and the Health Care Reconciliation Act on March 30.

The bottom line is that Obamacare passed with two bills. One was a reconciliation bill and one was not. The largest part of Obamacare legislation was passed in a normal bill that Republicans did not have the numbers to filibuster. The Republicans cannot pass a clean repeal because they do not have the votes to stop the Democrat filibuster that would be certain to come.

But what about the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama? How could this bill repeal the entirety of Obamacare and get past the Democrat filibuster to the president’s desk if it was limited to the Senate rules on budget reconciliations?

The answer is that the bill, HR 3762, which was assigned the unwieldy name “To provide for reconciliation pursuant to section 2002 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2016,” was not a clean repeal of Obamacare any more than the AHCA was. The 2015 bill, like the AHCA, begins with the statement that the Affordable Care Act is amended, not repealed.

A House Republican fact page about HR 3762 also doesn’t make the claim that the bill would have repealed Obamacare in full. The bill summary on the page says, “HR 3762 repeals the health exchange subsidies and the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), repeals the ‘Obamacare slush fund,’ eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood, repeals the individual and employer mandate penalties, and repeals the medical device and ‘Cadillac’ tax, among other provisions.” If you doubt this, you can read the text of the bill for yourself here.

HR 3762 might have been a better bill than the AHCA, but the Republican position in Congress was also better in 2015. Republicans held 54 Senate seats and 246 House seats in the 115th Congress. In the squeaker election of 2016, President Trump’s short coattails reduced those numbers to 52 Senate seats and 241 House seats. There is still a GOP majority in both houses, but a slimmer one with less margin for defections on votes.

HR 3762 passed the Senate by a 52-47 vote. Two Republicans voted against the measure, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine. Mark Kirk lost his reelection bid in 2016, but Susan Collins remains in the Senate as a prospective “no” vote on the AHCA.

The Medicaid Four were all in the Senate in 2015 and all voted for HR 3762. These four Senators switched their positions on the Medicaid expansion and made it necessary to present a weaker bill to Congress. It is ultimately these four Senators, along with Susan Collins, who should be held responsible for the failure of the GOP to repeal Obamacare because, without their votes, not even a reconciliation bill can pass, let alone a cloture vote on a clean repeal bill.

The failure of the Republicans to pass a clean repeal bill is not due to a lack of will on most members of the party. It is due to math. Democrats used the extremely rare and temporary 60 vote majority to force Obamacare through Congress with no Republican support. The current Republican position is much weaker than that of the Democrats in 2010.

If it is the fault of “RINOs” in Congress, it must be noted that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is not the RINO to blame. Ryan and other Republican leaders worked to provide the strongest bill possible given the electoral realities of their caucus.

The blame lies with a handful of Republican Senators who are holding up the drive for a strong bill to replace Obamacare. Their names are Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Cory Gardner (Col.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelly Moore Capito (W. V.) and Susan Collins (Maine).