Costello, Meehan dodge bullet on health care bill failure

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

In the end — for at least two of Chester County’s members of Congress — the decision to withdraw the American Health Care Act, the Republican’s much touted replacement for the Affordable Care Act (known more commonly as Obamacare) may have ended up as the best of a lot of bad possible outcomes.

Both Ryan Costello (R-6) and Pat Meehan (R-7) said following the decision to withdraw the bill that they would have been “no” votes on the legislation, which depending on estimates, would have fallen somewhere between 30 and 40 votes short of passage in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

And while there has been some nay-saying by some on social media and elsewhere, suggesting that the two were only against the bill once it failed, it’s not true.

I spoke with Costello earlier in the week and he confirmed, despite national media accounts, he did not whip as “yes” and has serious reservations about the number of people who might lose coverage under the AHCA and the impact on premiums for older folks.

The statement his office issued Friday afternoon tracks with his comments to me earlier in the week:

“The vote on the AHCA has been cancelled / postponed,” Costello said in a statement. “Bottom line – I would have voted NO on this legislation as proposed, and for several reasons. My guiding principles for healthcare reform remain to lower costs and provide affordable access to insurance coverage for all Americans. While I have sought to make improvements to this bill, both the last minute changes, which I did not have sufficient time to review, and the present form of the bill to be presented on the Floor, led me to be prepared to vote NO.”

Meehan’s office, too, as reported here Wednesday, also expressed concerns about the impact of the bill and cautioned that a previous vote to move the bill out of committee should not have been taken — as many national media whip counts appeared to do — as support for the bill. Like Costello, Meehan had concerns about the bill’s provisions — and even if he agreed with the need to repeal and replace Obamacare, he said he was worried this bill wouldn’t meet the goal of lowering healthcare costs.

“Obamacare has left too many Pennsylvanians behind, and middle class families face skyrocketing premiums and less access to the doctors they trust,” Meehan said in a statement. “I’ve long said we need to repeal it and replace it with real reforms that address the cost of care and make quality coverage more affordable. I’ve been supportive of moving this process forward and crafting legislation that achieves these goals.

“The bill took important steps to dismantle Obamacare’s maze of taxes and mandates, and it also preserved protections for people with pre-existing conditions – a top priority of mine throughout this debate,” Meehan continued. “But I also expressed serious concerns about just what this bill would have meant for Pennsylvania. I had hoped that as the bill worked its way through the House, we’d be able to improve it and ensure we’re lowering costs for patients.

“This legislation didn’t go far enough to bring down the cost of care or make essential coverage more affordable. Ultimately, this bill was not a satisfactory repeal of Obamacare, nor an adequate replacement,” Meehan said.

“This issue isn’t going away. With more time and more feedback from members and their constituents, I hope we’ll be able to continue the repeal-and-replace process, both through regulatory reforms by the administration and through legislation that reflects the priorities we’ve set. It’s more important we get this done right than get it done fast, Meehan concluded.

Lloyd Smucker (R-16) was the lone supporter of the bill among Chester County’s Congressmen and stayed as a “yes” vote to the end.

“I am very disappointed,” Smucker said in a statement. “But we’re moving forward. We have an agenda the American people expect us to accomplish, and I remain hopeful we can come together to enact reforms that will have a direct, positive impact on the people I am here to represent.”

For Costello and Meehan — both of whom represent House districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 — it means not being forced to be on the record with a “yes” vote for legislation that appeared to be wildly unpopular. But is also means not being forced to take a “no” vote that could have brought the wrath of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump.

Smucker, though, may have delivered a ready-made TV commercial for his 2018 opponent (I’m guessing Christina Hartman takes another run at him), although he represents a district that Trump won, making it a far smaller risk than Costello or Meehan would have faced with a yes vote.

The bigger question remains: can this Congress get anything done with an extreme, right-wing minority, the Freedom Caucus, willing and happy to gum up any potential Republican bills — think tax reform, immigration reform and infrastructure, all legislative priorities for the Trump Administration.

As the right-wing media (Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, etc.) profits from ongoing conflict and polarization, it seems unlikely that Ryan and most of the Republican Conference will be able to work up a bipartisan approach to those bills — and interestingly, a lot of Democrats would be willing to work with the GOP on those bills — without being demonized, it seems like the Freedom Caucus will be able to hold the process hostage.

More worrisome, we’re beginning to see the same issue with left-leaning media outlets (MSNBC, Huffington Post, etc) ready to demonize any Democrat willing to reach across the aisle. Worse, The Movement – Sen. Bernie Sanders’ hard-core left-wing faction, appears to be a growing an equally irrational and intransigent mirror image to the Freedom Caucus (and maybe leading Senate Democrats to do something deeply foolish on a Supreme Court nominee, see below).

To be sure, Congress and the Trump Administration have work to do. The ACA needs work — arguably a lot of it — current tax policy is a joke, our roads and bridges continue to crumble and so on. But this Congress — with two coalition parties (the GOP is now essentially two parties, a center-right party and an extreme-right party barely holding together and the Democrats are quickly becoming a party of two factions as well, center-left and extreme-left) — seems destined to be stuck unable to do much of anything.

If the center-right and center-left factions of the two parties could find a way to work together, a lot could get done. But it seems unlikely in this media atmosphere.


A couple of things about this week’s U.S. Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch:

Yes, Democrats have a right to feel that their Republican Senate colleagues did them wrong in denying President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing and a vote (history will not look favorably on this act that essentially stole a Supreme Court nomination).

But filibustering Gorusch would be a grave mistake.

Bottom line, whether you like Gorsuch or not, he has proven himself to be highly qualified. A filibuster will look petty, partisan and pointless (as Senate leadership will invoke the ‘nuclear option’ and change the rules to require just 51 votes for confirmation).

This is the wrong fight at the wrong time.

Senate Democrats — including our own U.S. Senator Bob Casey Jr., who has said he backs a filibuster — would be well advised to focus their energies elsewhere. If they act like partisan hacks now, it will be harder to later convince the American public they are acting only in the national interest. That’s something that could be crucial if the Trump Campaign-Russian investigation yields real proof of coordination.

As is usually the case, the big picture matters.

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