Health care again: Summer blockbuster or bust?

     In this June 22, 2017, file photo, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., arrives to join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is struggling with senators like her who are opposed or wavering on the Republican health care bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    In this June 22, 2017, file photo, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., arrives to join Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is struggling with senators like her who are opposed or wavering on the Republican health care bill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

    You’ve surely seen “Animal House,” the hit film of summer ’78. Near the end, when chaos ensues during a parade, a marching band robotically struts down a blind alley and keeps marching even as its members pile up against the bricks.

    So here we are in summer ’17, the big Senate Republican production, “Repeal and Replace,” is supposedly finally really, really ready for wide release — but the anti-Obamacare obsessives are still marching into the bricks. They’ve been promising this movie since 2010, but their even own advance reviews are the opposite of boffo:

    The Republican health care bill “is probably going to be dead.”— John McCain

    “Very pessimistic.”—Charles Grassley

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    “It’s a tough situation.”—Jeff Flake

    “If I have to be that one person [to kill it], I will be it.”—Shelley Moore Capito

    The various Republican health care bills have been stinking up the joint since early spring, drawing opposition from roughly 80 percent of the citizenry, because the party that controls both chambers and the White House has no clue what to do. The obvious and sane solution, of course, would be to work with the Democrats to address Obamacare’s flaws and make it better — indeed, according to a new Kaiser Famility Foundation poll, 71 percent of Americans want the GOP to work across the aisle — but that ain’t happening any time soon, thanks to the long-marinating Republican ideological rage.

    Today, Mitch McConnell is unveiling a supposedly new improved version that would go to the Senate floor next week (without public hearings, natch), and we can only marvel at the Republicans’ pigheaded persistence. Polling shows that their kill-Obamacare quest “is the most unpopular legislation in three decades” — and yet they persist in wasting their time (and ours), and imperiling 20 million people who have benefited from Obama’s signature law.

    There’s no need to plumb all the details. Suffice it to say that even with McConnell’s latest tweaks, the gang that can’t govern still seems to be self-screwed.

    “Moderate” Republicans (I use that word advisedly; we’re grading on a curve here) say that the Senate measure is way too conservative because it drains too much Medicaid money. But some conservative Republicans, like Rand Paul, think the measure is way too moderate because it doesn’t destroy every vestige of Obamacare. If only three of the 52 Republican senators defect next week — indeed, if only three block the opening of debate — the bill is effectively dead.

    It’s always fascinating to watch what happens when right-wing ideological rage collides with the brick wall of reality. Last week, during the July 4 recess, 49 of the 52 senators declined to hold town halls, fearing the public’s wrath. One of the few who surfaced was Jerry Moran of Kansas. In years past, he called repeatedly for Obamacare “repeal,” but last week, in front of real people, he said this: “I have concern about people with disabilities, the frail and elderly. I also know that if we want health care in rural places and across Kansas,” Medicaid needs to be well-funded “for the services they provide.”

    Meanwhile, we have Ted Cruz. He’s a farcical subplot all its own.

    He’s pitching a “freedom option” amendment that, at least in his mind, tries to bring both sides together. He wants to let the private insurers sell cheap skimpy plans that would be exempt from the Obamacare rules (like offering maternity care, cancer drugs, stuff like that) — as long as they also offer a separate plan that meets the Obamacare rules. But, as the private insurers’ lobby group pointed out in a letter yesterday, the “freedom option” is ridiculous, because it would hike the premiums of all the expensively sick people who’d sign up for the Obamacare plan.

    Meanwhile, where’s the so-called president in all this? Since he can’t lead on policy, he’s just blustering on the sidelines.

    Last month, Trump seemed resigned to failure, to the prospect that his promise to destroy Obamacare was not happening: “If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK.” But since this is a guy with no fixed views on anything, sure enough he trotted out a new view yesterday. If the Senate and House fail to repeal Obamacare, “I will be very angry about it.”

    So he said, in an interview with televangelist Pat Robertson. It appears that Trump is preparing to separate himself from the potential congressional disaster, and we could talk more about that, but perhaps this question is more urgent:

    Why, six months into his reign, has he been reduced to answering softballs from the likes of Pat Robertson? As if we couldn’t guess.

    Hat tip to my summer research assistant, Dominic Casciato.

    On the collusion front:

    If this story had been broken by The New York Times or The Washington Post, we’d be in meltdown. But the McClatchy Washington bureau – which (along with its precursor Knight Ridder) led the pack a decade ago on exposing the Iraq WMD lies – does very solid work. Read the opening, and get your mind blown.

    “Investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    “Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states – areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton, according to several people familiar with the parallel inquiries.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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