In the immortal words of then–Vice President Joe Biden about the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to postpone a vote on the cruel and unpopular Senate health-care “reform” bill early Tuesday afternoon is “a big fucking deal.”
I admit: My first reaction to the news was worry. Was McConnell attempting to derail the inspiring and moving backlash the bill has provoked over the last week, and especially in the last few days? Does it give the corrupt and wily leader more time to cajole his caucus, and to spread around the $3 billion that the Senate bill saved, compared to the House bill?
Specifically, will McConnell be able to bribe skeptical GOP senators who worried about the bill’s cuts to Medicaid as well as to opioid treatment, like Maine’s Susan Collins, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito and Ohio’s Rob Portman, with a little more spending on both? Meanwhile, right-wing dark-money forces are spreading their own cash. Look how they’re trying to intimidate Nevada Senator Dean Heller, the most vulnerable incumbent in 2018, by continuing the ad onslaught they’ve already begun against him.
I’m still worried. But I’m also elated. Passionate grassroots activism forced McConnell to pull the bill, and passionate grassroots activism will eventually defeat it, for good—if we keep it up.
Our premature victory lap over defeating the first House bill was a rookie mistake in the age of Donald Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan—the sociopath who, let’s never forget, began dreaming of slashing Medicaid over keggers in college—managed to revive the bill by actually making it more cruel. Faux-centrists fell for the addition of a minuscule appropriation to recreate “pools” for folks with preexisting conditions, which we also know will never work. But progressives got caught flat-footed, and we lost.
We almost lost on this bill, too—at least partly because pundits, and even some Democratic strategists, declared the battle over before it was fought. That was largely about the myth of McConnell’s “invincibility,” says Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden. “We see he can be defeated,” an elated Tanden said Tuesday afternoon. “That’s important.”
Progressives also note that after the House bill passed it was widely predicted that McConnell would look to soften the edges of the Senate bill. Instead, he sharpened them, with Medicaid cuts and cuts to ACA subsidies that particularly hurt older working-class people. “McConnell is not stupid, but he is heartless,” says Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party. “He knows that people would die premature deaths if this bill passed, but he seems to not care. Tax cuts über alles is really the Republican slogan of our era.” It’s unlikely that McConnell postponed the vote because his greed is showing; it’s more likely he realized he needed a few cosmetic improvements.