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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Obamacare war simply won’t be won by McConnell leading from behind

It’s safe to say many conservatives were more than steamed last month when the Senate Republican leadership’s last gasp effort to finally fulfill seven years’ worth of promises to right the Obamacare wrong were foiled by a group of party holdouts who, independent of common sense and pleas from their colleagues decided not to support the Graham-Cassidy “fix it” bill.

The legislation was not even close to a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act but still would have corrected several of the law’s more damaging provisions. On balance the proposition was doing something to rectify a Trump Obamacarebad situation and most conservatives reluctantly recognized it was worthwhile to back it.

The bill didn’t even get a vote, however, having been pulled by Mitch McConnell, a leader so ineffective that he can’t even strong-arm or cajole a token few wayward members of his caucus to save the party once in a while. The usual suspects were all involved in the latest blockade – Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and of course the “traitor” John McCain.

And then there was Senator Rand Paul. The Kentuckian made it well-known he was growing impatient with the GOP’s half-hearted efforts to ditch Obamacare. In the end Paul decided not to support the Graham bill in what amounted to the final knife in the proposal’s heart.

Conservatives were miffed at Paul for the gesture but less so than with the moderate “I want more money for Medicaid” big government gang who cower from doing anything that might make some leftist interest group unhappy. They’re Chuck Schumer’s best friends. The media calls them “principled.” Conservatives have other non-repeatable nicknames for them.

What about Paul? He’s no squish, but is he becoming an obstructionist like the rest?

Maybe not. It turns out behind the scenes Paul has forged a bit of an unusual alliance with President Donald Trump. W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner wrote last week, “One key difference is that Trump has endorsed every Republican healthcare bill that has had a decent chance of passing either chamber, while Paul has often come out against ‘Obamacare lite’ in the Senate. This prompted Trump to blast Paul as a ‘negative force’ on healthcare when the latter opposed the Graham-Cassidy bill, the last healthcare reform attempt by Senate Republicans.

“Yet even there, Trump also described Paul as his ‘friend.’ He predicted Paul would get on board ‘for the good of the party.’ This is light treatment compared to that received by past holdouts like Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Dean Heller, R-Nev. At the end of September, the two joined forces on pushing executive action to ease Obamacare's regulatory burdens.”

Even Paul’s spokesman (Communications Director Segio Gor) described the relationship between the two former Republican presidential primary rivals as a personal friendship. Gor indicated Trump and Paul are in constant communication and it seems they both fault the GOP congressional leadership for the difficulties in advancing the Republican platform.

Paul was present at the signing of Trump’s Obamacare-smashing executive orders last week and the president specifically cited the libertarian senator as a good person to have on your side.

It’s great to see Trump developing friendships in Congress – one, because it will definitely aid in pushing the agenda down the line but also because it dispels the media created myth that no one appreciates Trump on Capitol Hill. When the press makes such wide generalizations about “friendships” in Congress it’s mostly in reference to the establishment leadership not liking somebody. It shouldn’t be forgotten that during last year’s GOP primary campaign the same “he has no friends” smear job was pinned to Ted Cruz.

Maybe it’s lonely being an outsider in Washington DC. Anyone who wants to change the system certainly has an uphill climb, which includes making “friends.”

If there really is tension between Trump and McConnell and Paul Ryan it’s because the former generated all the enthusiasm from the party base to give the latter their majorities, which everyone knows have largely been squandered by ineffectiveness.

As for Trump’s Obamacare executive orders, they’re not exactly the same as sealing policies into law but they’ll help a lot of struggling people get health insurance at a lower price. Not only that, but Trump’s action last week to cancel out the federal government’s unconstitutional Obamacare subsidies will almost certainly spur Congress to act on a permanent solution. By taking away the money propping up insurance companies, the Democrats no longer have the luxury of hiding under their taxpayer-funded golden parachute.

Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner reported, “The cost-sharing funds, estimated at roughly $7 billion for this year, pays for low-income consumers' out-of-pocket medical expenses. Under Obamacare, insurers are required to offer lower costs for these services, for which the government then reimburses them. If they do not receive the funding, they must still offer discounts, and without an action from Congress they would be likely to sue for the money.

“The uncertainty over the future of the payments has contributed to insurer exits and planned premium increases for 2018, though insurers also acknowledge that they were losing money through the exchange business, where too few young, healthy enrollees purchased their plans.”

It’s the country’s worst kept secret that Obamacare was really just a massive scheme to extort money from young fit people to pay for insurance coverage for older and wealthier individuals with more health problems. No one disputes that these folks may need some sort of assistance to cover their bills but the system devised by the Democrats basically punishes one responsible group by forcing them to buy policies they don’t want or need just so another can get care for a price the market wouldn’t otherwise support.

Various proposals have been advanced to introduce free market solutions and transparency into the healthcare industry, something that would serve to lower prices for everyone. Perhaps at that point government could intervene to help out the neediest but there’s no reason to impose a “one size fits all” band-aid on a problem that can’t be crammed neatly into one little box.

The Democrats would prefer to force the entire country into a prohibitively expensive single-payer system that would supposedly cover everyone for everything. If you listened to Senator Bernie Sanders when he talked-up “Sanderscare” a month ago you would think the United States government could station a medical professional at every front door and only the rich would have to pay more for it.

Unfortunately reality demonstrates such pie-in-the-sky fantasies are the figment of wild senile socialist imaginations. But even in an ideologically divided Congress some sort of reasonable compromise should be possible. But to do it we’ll need leadership. Some like to make excuses for McConnell’s failings in this regard, even a few so-called “conservatives.”

Jonah Goldberg wrote in National Review, “[B]ecause we see things through a partisan-tribal lens, dissent from the party line or the Trump ‘agenda’ is cast as betrayal, particularly by the loud rump faction represented by people such as ousted White House adviser Steve Bannon. To listen to the Bannonistas, McConnell’s failure to deliver the votes for Obamacare repeal — or, soon, tax reform — is a personal betrayal of Trump. Never mind that the U.S. Senate isn’t the British Parliament, and the majority leader has little to no power to force 51 independently elected senators to do anything. Also, no Senate majority leader can compensate for a president unwilling or unable to unify the party.”

Technically everything Goldberg said was true. Looking from the outside we see the puffy jowled McConnell complaining about Democrat protests and senate procedural hurdles. The majority leader did set aside the “Blue Slip” tradition last week to try and speed judicial nominee confirmations. But there’s a lot more he could do to instill some discipline in his caucus, ranging from withholding party campaign money to pulling coveted committee assignments to bringing public pressure upon the naysayers.

McConnell can’t tie dissenters to a tree and lash them with a wet noodle until they relent but he certainly can make their work lives awfully uncomfortable if they won’t play with the team.

But #NeverTrumpers like Goldberg suggest there’s another problem at hand. He continued, “Bannon, a self-described ‘nationalist’ who detests traditional conservatism and ‘the establishment,’ is trying to turn McConnell into a bogeyman so that nationalist congressional challengers can topple Republican incumbents in primaries and advance Bannon’s (if not necessarily Trump’s) agenda.”

There really isn’t a need for anyone to turn McConnell into a “bogeyman” because years of feckless leadership already gave plenty of people that impression before Bannon even became a household name during the 2016 campaign. Conservative leaders and media personalities openly blamed Karl Rove and the establishment for Republicans getting wiped out of Congress in 2006, for example – so the idea that the ruling class is the problem in Washington isn’t exactly new.

People aren’t stupid; conservative new and alternative media outlets such as Fox News have educated the public to a greater extent than in the old days when more people simply accepted that Republicans meant “conservative” and Democrats equaled the defenders of the welfare state.

Not anymore. There are plenty of elected Republicans who willingly join the minority party to back big government. The struggle over repealing Obamacare proved it. Some might claim Trump’s perpetually lukewarm popularity numbers reinforce their arguments to ignore him but there’s also a great deal of evidence that the polls don’t tell the whole story.

Bill Clinton’s pollster Mark Penn wrote in The Hill, “The failure to understand the 2016 election was in large measure not a failure of the final polls, many of which showed a close race, but a failure to understand the powerful storyline of Trump’s appeal with his respect for cops and the military, taking a more aggressive position against our enemies, and pushing for tax and health-care reform. His style is not what won him the presidency. It was, remarkably, his substance.

“I, frankly, didn’t at the time see his rise in the Republican primary as realistic. I don’t believe he has advanced his coalition from Election Day, and rank-and-file Democratic opposition has hardened. But he hasn’t lost his support either, and taking on ‘The Swamp’ only empowers him further.”

Mitch McConnell and Republican stonewallers may believe they have history and the public in their corner but Americans are on the side of good accountable, limited government that stays within the bounds of the Constitution and does as little as possible to interfere in people’s lives. Trump is advancing, they’re retreating. There’s only one way to win a war and it’s not by leading from behind.

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