You’ve got to hand it to Ted Cruz. Four years ago, the freshman Texas senator was getting roundly pilloried for hatching the plan that resulted in a shutdown of the government over defunding Obamacare. Today, he and Utah Senator Mike Lee may be the authors of a plan to break Congressional gridlock over scrapping the disastrous law and replacing it with something that works.
Last time we checked on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he was stuck trying to pass a Senate counterpart to the health care bill passed by the House in May. McConnell has pushed the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA), which has been universally panned by Republican senators, both on the left and the right. The BCRA, which has been dubbed “Obamacare Lite,” follows the old Texas adage that the only things in the middle of the road are dead armadillos and unpassable legislation.
Enter Cruz and Lee. Their proposal, the Consumer Freedom Amendment, would allow insurers to sell any insurance plan, so long as they sell at least one plan that meets the onerous Obamacare insurance mandates. Like the House’s MacArthur amendment, which allows states to apply for waivers from certain cost-inflating requirements, Cruz and Lee’s proposal provides the flexibility in the insurance marketplace needed to reduce health insurance premiums. Also, like the MacArthur amendment, which greased the skids for House passage of the underlying bill, the proposal could be the lynchpin for getting the BCRA through the Senate.
Conservatives, who were not thrilled with the original BCRA have been rallying around the Cruz-Lee proposal. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows suggested the Cruz-Lee proposal would make the Senate bill palatable enough for House conservatives to accept: “Right now I’m looking at the Cruz consumer choice amendment as the primary vehicle that makes the most sense to me and I applaud him for stepping out.”
Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning praised the Cruz-Lee proposal, saying:
“The Cruz amendment, by virtue of allowing non-federally regulated plans to be sold in every state, would either mean there are fewer taxpayer-subsidized plans or in the very least, the potential subsidy for those particular plans covering fewer items would go down. As a result, the Cruz amendment ought to receive a favorable budget score as lowering the deficit, since by definition it must reduce federal spending. It is therefore a budgetary provision that should be allowed on the Obamacare replacement budget reconciliation bill. But beyond that, it could be the key compromise that gets this legislation across the finish line and helps to bring down health insurance premiums, through competition for all types of plans and allowing consumers to choose if they want regulated plan or not.”
Senate passage of health care is as much a matter of math, as it is of politics. Because no Democrat is likely to buck their angry, left-wing base and work with Republicans in good faith, McConnell cannot afford to lose more than two Republican votes. With Sen. Rand Paul’s abject opposition to anything short of a full, clean repeal of Obamacare, Senator Lee’s announcement that he will oppose the BCRA unless it contains the consumer choice amendment leaves McConnell no margin for additional defections.
Also, whatever product comes out of the Senate must still be passed by the House. Barring that, the House and Senate must meet in a joint conference committee, and both chambers must pass an agreed-upon conference report. In either case, the House is unlikely to pass anything that does not include either the MacArthur amendment or the Cruz-Lee proposal. If McConnell wants to get health care through the entire legislative process as quickly as possible, he would be wise to include the consumer choice provisions. He certainly cannot concede to the Democrats by trying to simply prop up the collapsing regime of Obamacare, as McConnell has hinted he might do.
Since Obamacare was enacted seven years ago, Senate and House Republicans have unanimously and consistently voted to repeal the law outright numerous times. Their reluctance to do it now that they have power reveals a sad truth about politics and politicians. If Republicans in Washington hate Obamacare, its implacable mandates, its labyrinth of rules and regulations, and its inflation of health care costs as much as they tell voters, their actions must match their rhetoric. Otherwise, when Obamacare collapses under its own weight, it will do so right on the Republican Congressional majorities in 2018.
Senators Cruz and Lee have given their colleagues a principled way through this legislative process that scores a big win for American consumers — finally bringing premiums back to Earth. The GOP should take it.