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Why Republicans Are Putting on a Health Care Kabuki



I am left with a lot of questions: If Senator Richard Burr does not see a path to passing an ObamaCare replacement this year, why make a splash with a proposal that is not a bill rather than simply scheduling hearings? If Richard Burr thinks that the Burr-Coburn-Hatch proposal from last year was unfairly rejected by his Republican colleagues and that they should take another look at it, why put Burr-Hatch-Upton forward as if it were brand-new–as if it were not a reboot of last year’s Burr-Coburn-Hatch? And why does Peter Sullivan of The Hill not tell his readers that BHU is a reboot of BCH–if, that is, he has the slightest desire at all to be in the trusted-information-intermediary business? And even if he doesn’t want to be in the trusted-information-intermediary business, why does it please Burr to have The Hill’s readers thinking that this is something that Burr has come up with in the last two months, rather than a line of approach that he has been thinking bout, tweaking, and trying to get right for years?

As far as legislative-process and coalition-assembly is concerned, this looks like Kabuki. More, it looks like Dingbat Kabuki–the motives of the performers seem, to me, to be incomprehensible. And I have worked in the U.S. Treasury. I have not just seen the sausage being made but actually done some sausage-making myself.

I actually think that the motives of Burr et al. are eminently comprehensible. Helpfully, Randy Barnett explained it for us:

With or without bipartisanship, however, Republicans need to have a well-vetted replacement in the pipeline. To make a favorable ruling in King more likely, the legislative wheels must be visibly in motion by the time of oral arguments in March.

If it’s entirely clear that siding with the ACA troofers will throw most of the country’s health care insurance markets into chaos will Congress does nothing, it might give Roberts and Kennedy pause. It might not — I can very much see Roberts writing a hilariously disingenuous conclusion asserting that his troofer holding will modestly allow Congress to clarify its intent — but as Barnett’s concerns indicate, it might. Pretending that the GOP has an actual alternative acts as reassurance. The congressional Republicans putting on a kabuki make it easier for Republicans like Kennedy and Roberts to lie to themselves a la Michael Strain. Admittedly, there is a risk involved — a really spectacular flameout could dispel the illusion — but I don’t think things will get far enough along for that. Republican legislators showing up at press conferences with after having visited Kinko’s with copies of earlier terrible proposals may be good enough for the swing votes on the court to convince themselves that they’re not really about to kill a lot of people when they declare that the Moops invaded Spain.

Incidentally, as Ed Kilgore pointed out at the time Barnett’s proposals can only be called black comedy gold. It’s no surprise that the his proposals would make things far worse than the status quo ante — not merely ending the ACA’s regulations but effectively gutting most state ones with the “sell insurance across state lines” anti-reform, it would make health insurance sold on exchanges completely worthless junk most people who needed it couldn’t afford anyway. But even for an ACA troofer, declaring that “such a bill is very likely to be bipartisan” is shameless. It’s the lying to yourself/lying to others question again — in Barnett’s case, I’m pretty confident that it’s the latter.

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