If the U.S. Senate were not almost evenly split, maybe Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans could radically overhaul health care or rewrite the tax code all by themselves.
But, with a 52-48 edge and lots of internal discord, Republicans need Democrats to move any meaningful legislation. That’s the practical reality, as evidenced by the collapse of the latest Republican effort on health care, a collapse that most Americans welcomed.
There are other, even better reasons for McConnell to reach across the aisle and engage in — gasp! — bipartisanship:
▪ The end product will be better.
▪ Americans are sick of a Congress that seems incapable of accomplishing anything.
McConnell vows to repeal the Affordable Care Act someday but first wants tax reform. There are, however, urgent health-care matters that require bipartisan cooperation.
At risk are 27 million Americans — including about 175,000 Kentuckians — who buy their insurance on the individual market or are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, plus many more who are partially covered by CHIP.
Happily, before everything was stopped to make way for the latest doomed ACA-repeal, Republicans and Democrats were working together to stabilize the individual market and fund CHIP which expires Sept. 30. They were working through committees — the “regular order” that McConnell once promised to restore. Sen. John McCain cited the flouting of Senate order — no hearings, debates or amendments — for his opposition which helped kill his party’s health-care bill.
Before that failed push, Finance chairman Republican Orrin Hatch and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden were closing in on a plan to fund CHIP for five years, while tapering off the program’s higher funding under the ACA. CHIP covers children and pregnant women from families whose earnings are too high for Medicaid. Without congressional action, Kentucky will run out of money for the program (known here as KCHIP) early next year. Also on Sept. 30, funding expires for HANDS, the voluntary home visitation program for new and expectant parents, while community health centers are due to lose 70 percent of their federal support.
In Health and Welfare, chairman Republican Lamar Alexander and ranking Democrat Patty Murray were planning how to protect 18 million Americans from premium increases. President Donald Trump, whose administration is doing everything it can to sabotage the individual market, seems to think people who can no longer afford health care in 2018 will blame the president who left office in 2017. Even if his political calculus is right, his callous indifference to the millions of people who would be hurt is wrong. Congress and Trump have an obligation to make the current system work for as many people as possible until they can muster the votes to create a new system.
Meanwhile, let’s remember that Senate traditions of bipartisan deliberation and compromise served the country well — until McConnell insisted on unrelenting Republican obstruction at the outset of Barack Obama’s presidency. McConnell, reviled now by right-wingers he once enabled and appeased, may find his only option is to move to the bipartisan middle. Conveniently, that’s also the right thing to do.