The pre-July 4 rush to pass the Senate version of healthcare failed, and the bill is back in the shop for repairs. Senators and their constituents have time to pause and reflect before majority leader Mitch McConnell's next attempt to create a bill that satisfies 50 of the 52 Republican senators, allowing Vice President Pence to ride in on his white charger and cast the 51st vote. Here in Arizona, our focus is on senators Flake and McCain. Maybe they'll meet with constituents during the break and hear what people have to say, maybe not. Maybe they've been reading their emails and listening to their voicemails, maybe not. Maybe they've been looking at the way the bill is tanking in the polls, maybe . . . oh, hell, there's no maybe on this one, we know they've been reading the polls religiously.
Let me make a public plea to the two of them as they consider their options. Take a stand on health care. Draw a line in the sand. Tell us, "Here is what I demand from a bill. If it doesn't come up to my minimum standard, I'm voting No."
For two outspoken guys, Flake and McCain have been awfully quiet and mealy-mouthed about the health care bill. The number of senators who say they almost positively won't vote for the bill in its current form moves up and down, but it's somewhere around 8. Neither of our guys is among them. Both say they're studying the bill. Flake has hidden in the shadows. McCain, Mr. Straight Talk Express, who can't resist the lure of a microphone when it's put in front of him, swerved all over the road when he was asked the question.
"I've been talking with the governor (Republican Doug Ducey), and we're having conversations, and we will go through the whole bill together, and we will have time to discuss it and decide. ... Right now the governor's initial impression is that it's not helpful to his state. We're going to continue to have conversations, we're going to listen to the debate, and decide."
If the bill had come up for a vote this week and it was close, chances are McConnell could have counted on Flake and McCain to be Yes votes. "After considering the pros and cons, I decided this bill will be an overall positive . . ." blah, blah, blah. But it didn't come up for a vote, so now there's time to read the bill. There's time to pore over the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. There's time for them to tell their constituents what must be added to or subtracted from the bill before they give it their approval.
Here's my suggestion to our two senators. Set a maximum number of people who will no longer have health insurance if Obamacare is replaced by GOPcare. The CBO said 18 million fewer people would have insurance by 2018 with the current version, and that number would go up to 22 million by 2026. Those numbers may be high or low, but they weren't written by Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. They came from CBO head Keith Hall, who worked in the Bush administration and was suggested for his current job by Tom Price, Trump's secretary of health and human services. His numbers may not be 100 percent accurate, but he can't be accused of being a partisan out to sabotage Republicans. And even if his numbers are too high by, say, 25 percent, it would still mean 13 to 16 million fewer people would have insurance than under Obamacare. The loss of insurance is inevitable. Anyone who can do basic arithmetic knows, if you give a $700 billion tax cut to the rich and take it out of health care, that's going to cut access.
So what's your top number, Jeff and John? Five million fewer with health insurance by 2026? Ten million? Fifteen million? You certainly can't think it's OK to add 22 million Americans to the list of the uninsured. That many more people one injury or illness away from financial ruin? That can't be acceptable, can it?
If I could only address one of our two senators, I'd talk to Jeff Flake. McCain loves to thrust out his chest and talk tough on the issues, but his usual M.O. is: Chest out, back down, chest out, back down. Flake, it seems to me, is less of a showboat. He looks to be a man with a genuine moral center. I may not agree with where his center is, but I think it's there. While McCain shrugs and moves on when he takes one for the team and casts a vote he disagrees with, I get the sense Flake agonizes over his decisions and feels guilty when he makes a political calculation that goes against his better judgement and his moral fiber. So I say to Senator Flake, where does your conscience draw the line? How many people are you willing to hurt by cutting off their access to health care before you say enough? Please let us know.