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McConnell’s Nihilism Works


As we’ve discussed before, Mitch McConnell is a hugely consequential figure in American political history because of his recognition that you can violate longstanding norms of decent conduct while paying no political price at all. The process he’s using to ram through a horrible and incredibly healthcare bill is a grotesque assault on democracy. It also appears to be very effective:

But McConnell’s condensed schedule is cutting the resistance’s legs out from under them.

Just compare the process for passing AHCA with that for passing Obamacare. As that bill was being drafted, the Senate HELP Committee held 14 bipartisan roundtables and 13 public hearings in 2008 and 2009. The Center for American Progress’ Topher Spiro detailed in the Washington Post that Democrats accepted more than 160 Republican amendments to the bill in June 2009.

The Senate Finance Committee held 17 public events and hearings. Democrats negotiated with Republicans for months. Then there were Congressional Budget Office scores that appeared before Congress voted on the bill. Vox’s Sarah Kliff Obama recalls just how extensive the debate was.

All of these procedural points (and others) created chokepoints that allowed the Republicans to stir up opposition to the law. This time, McConnell rewrote the normal rules of legislating to instead blow right past them.

And it’s keeping people distracted. From his home in rural Kentucky, Robert Miracle told Vox that only a few of his friends and family are taking seriously the prospect that Trump will sign a bill that results in millions fewer people having insurance.

Instead, Miracle’s relatives are digesting a torrent of coverage of the Russia scandal that they regard as “BS.” In part because they don’t see it in the media, fewer people are heeding his calls to write the state’s Republican senators to urge them not to vote for AHCA.

“Both of my brothers think the Russia stuff is not a big deal and all blown up. They turn on the TV and don’t see anything about health care, and they don’t believe that they’ll go through with it,’” Miracle, 58, told me.

By the time they do, he worries, they’ll already have passed the bill.

It’s worth noting here, however, that the media is making a choice, and a very bad one, by mostly going silent on this. It could be treating McConnell’s antidemocratic behavior as a major scandal — and, let us be frank, had Obama announced that he was going to try to ram through a healthcare bill conceived in secret with no Republican input in a few weeks, Fred Hiatt would have been calling for his impeachment on a daily basis — but it now treats this as if it was normal. It could be treating Donald Trump’s massive, unambiguous lies about health care as major scandal almost as serious as Hillary Clinton’s email server, but it’s not. Instead, when political reporters aren’t ignoring the story entirely they’re writing stories that treat Senate Republicans as if they have no agency and the antidemocratic process is just sort of happening to them. Again, I’m pretty confident that if most elite journalists thought their health coverage was being threatened, they’d be making very different choices.

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