Sen. John McCain, just days removed from a brain cancer diagnosis, returned to the Senate on Tuesday to the cheers of his colleagues. He gave a fiery speech about the many things wrong with the Senate — the lack of trust and compromise and the motivation to “win” for political reasons, not for the public good.
He was right on every point. However, just minutes earlier McCain, a Republican from Arizona, voted to move ahead with one of the least transparent, most politically motivated and most cynical Senate deliberations, which could result in as many as 32 million people losing access to health insurance.
This is not heroic or praiseworthy.
Only two Republican senators stood up for their constituents — and the decorum of the Senate, which their colleagues, including McCain, say they value. Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska found the Senate process for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act so egregious that they took the unusual step of voting against beginning debate.
Collins and Murkowski voted no on the motion to proceed because it was entirely unclear what the Senate would proceed to.
Their actions matched their words.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires,” McCain told his colleagues.
On repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he said: “We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.”
He’s right; it shouldn’t work. But his vote for this shabby process — motivated more by a desire to undo an Obama-era policy than to improve health care — allowed it to continue. So far, the Senate has proceeded to the mess that Collins, Murkowski and McCain foresaw. It took a vote from Vice President Mike Pence to begin debate on what is expected to be a long list of of likely ever changing bills. The first repeal bill was strongly rejected Tuesday evening, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to continue to bring legislation to the floor this week in hopes of passing some sort of an ACA repeal bill.
Collins has been speaking out for weeks about the disastrous aspects of several repeal bills, especially changes that would hobble Medicaid and raise premium costs for older, low-income Americans. She has reasonably and repeatedly suggested that a bipartisan discussion, with hearings and expert analysis, is a far better way to craft such sweeping legislation.
She made those points again Tuesday.
“When dealing w/ a complex issue that affects millions of Americans & 1/6th of our economy, we must proceed carefully,” she said on Twitter, explaining her vote against the Senate motion to proceed.
“Making sweeping changes to the 50-year-old Medicaid program without a single Senate hearing is a mistake,” she added. “We must work in a bipartisan way to fix the ACA’s serious flaws.”
This is a common-sense way to proceed, one Collins didn’t just talk about, but backed up with her vote.