On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office issued their assessment of the GOP healthcare bill currently worming its way around the Senate. The verdict was unsurprisingly brutal, anticipating that by 2026, 22 million more people (in addition to the more than 28 million people currently without insurance) would be uninsured. Despite this assessment, the Senate is still planning to vote on this bill. Even if they’ve pushed it out past their recess to sometime after July 4th, it’s still a major cause for concern.
Given that this healthcare (or deathcare or wealthcare) bill would massively cut Medicaid—not to mention reduce tax credits for working and middle class families while simultaneously lining the pockets of the wealthiest 1% with a nice little tax cut—it’s fair to see the bill as not merely dangerous but outright cruel. It’s the embodiment of the worst stereotypes about heartless, wealthy Republicans all wrapped up in a mere 142 pages. Anyone even passingly concerned with the most vulnerable populations in our country should oppose this bill, and a tremendous wave of Americans have launched large-scale campaigns to call senators, stage airport protests to confront politicians on their way home for the weekend, and make their opposition to this bill heard in loud voices. These actions are admirable, necessary and good.
However, there has increasingly been another loud voice, one coming primarily from the center-left. They have recently strengthened their cry that now is not the time for “in-fighting,” that the GOP healthcare bill is up for a vote, our lives are on the line, and so we must come together!
That’s certainly a statement that sounds nice in passing as long as you don’t spend more than a half second thinking about it. But if you pause for even a second, it pretty much unravels, doesn’t it?
Because here’s the thing, the House passed their version of the healthcare bill on May 4th, after which, the President hosted a victory party in the Rose Garden—with carts of beer—for all the hardworking republican congressmen who’d put in a hard day stealing from the poor.
The Senate has rewritten the healthcare bill, but much of the worst aspects of it remains intact. Between the CBO assessment and the hard work of citizens and activists, the vote on this bill has been pushed back, but despite that, the GOP is still likely to pass it. What will stop them? Is it the unification of Senate Democrats standing in opposition? Well, no. Because the thing is, the Democrats are already quite unified in opposition of this bill. Not one Democrat is likely to vote for it. There is no need to yell “UNITY” regarding Democratic votes here. No matter what fair, unfair, dumb, or deeply thoughtful criticisms are lobbed at Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren right now, neither are going to change their minds and help pass the GOP bill.
Thus far, generally speaking, uniting against Trump and the GOP is actually not a problem the Dems have had. Unfortunately, the Democrats do not hold enough seats to stop bills simply through uniting their votes. What will stop the bill is only if enough GOP senators vote against it. At print time, there were 5 GOP senators who expressed hesitation to vote for it (don't get too excited though, most of them oppose the bill only because they don't think it goes far enough). Only 2 GOP senators have to vote no for the bill to fail. There are a few ways those “no” votes can be solidified:
- Unrelenting pressure from constituents who finally convince their GOP senators that they will not be able to seek reelection if they vote for this bill. Constituent actions should wield more power than they often do, but it is still fair to say that vocal anger and opposition to a policy by those who elect them can be impactful.
- Back-room dealing and negotiations initiated by key Democrats. This is theoretically possible and if any Democrat senators wield that persuasive leveraging, they should use it, but again, this is not something that requires united Dems but rather individual members with the savvy and influence to make very specific deals. With the increasingly loyal bipartisan nature of the Senate, these relationships seem less and less common.
- Two GOP senators experiencing some sort of visiting ghosts dream scenario where they wake up with a sudden newfound care for their fellow man. Frankly, I'd place this as the second most likely scenario in the list.
So the left's work rests primarily on two things: Democratic senators with influence wielding their power, and we the constituents making calls, visiting Senate offices, protesting. The latter things are occurring. Out of self-preservation, compassion, and a desire to simply do what's right, people are motivated and energized to prevent this terrible blow to Medicaid and to those whose lives depend on it.
It might work.
Pessimistically, it might not. The GOP opposition is likely to be of the now typical “strong as a house of cards” John McCain variety, who said there were many problems with the bill but he wouldn't withhold support because “that's not how it works.”
It’s very possible the bill will pass the Senate, the House will rush an approval vote that will go the same way the last healthcare vote went, and that will be it.
The real question is, then what?
That’s the part that seems to be missing in all of these calls for unity. What do Dems do once the GOP has passed a bill to injure, bankrupt and kill Americans?
The next step is fighting this terrible bill the way our current political structure forces it to be fought: by overturning the bill and passing new healthcare legislation. As the Democrats do not hold a majority in either the House or Senate, it’s deeply unlikely for this to occur until they do. This means that the next real chance of fighting the GOP healthcare plan will be immediately following the 2018 elections and only in the case that the Democrats win enough seats to shift the congressional majorities.
According to the most recent Morning Consult & Politico poll, the GOP Healthcare bill only has a 30% approval rate among constituents of all parties. Its deep unpopularity can also therefore serve as a rallying cry to energize Democratic challenger candidates as they begin campaigning. The GOP will have passed (or nearly passed) a bill that served to kill the poor, cripple the middle classes and give a kick-back to the wealthiest households. How can the Democrats lose when they’re challenging that?
This is where the cries for unity should be focused. The Democrats can still, of course, lose in 2018. One of the things that will present a challenge for them is if they can only voice their opposition to the GOP plan without presenting a unified, strong, popular alternative. Trust in politicians has, over the course of the last 40 years, continued to decline steadily and is now well below 50%. Campaigning on “we opposed the GOP but trust us to do something better once we’re in office” is unlikely to translate into major vote increases in our current climate.
What will rally people is if the Democrats unite together in favor of a life-saving, popular healthcare bill. Lucky for them, half of the work on this has already been done, having already made headlines in 2016. Single-payer healthcare is popular. Moreover it continues to gain in popularity. It’s up 5% since January and 12% since the beginning of 2016.
It seems reasonable to conclude that the more people hear about single-payer, are taught what it entails and how it can benefit them, and are preached to by strong, smart, heartfelt politicians / candidates who believe in it, the more single-payer will increase in popularity.
If the Democrats follow Elizabeth Warren—who this week said, “now it’s time for the next step and the next step is single-payer”—they can unite on a real response to the evils of the GOP healthcare bill. The Dems will then have the ability to go into 2018 not just with a majority but with a healthcare proposal that a vast majority of Americans will already understand and support.
But they can’t do that if the Dems are fractured on this issue. They will not achieve this if some Dems say, “Gee, that’s too hard, too expensive, we have money to spend on endless war but on the health and well-being of American’s lives? Not so fast.” Single-payer may seem to some, at this point, a remarkably difficult undertaking, but the positive accomplishments in the history of our country must remind us that good can still be achieved. The collective will of the people and the power of a party that is united to do the most good can bring about important things to benefit us all. But we must be united.
This is also why so many of the current center-left calls for unity ring hollow. The unity cries thus far have been, in truth, simply calls to silence certain individuals. Unity, in response to the healthcare bill, is not being requested for anything that requires unity to be achieved, nor has it been a call for unity for anything that the left was not already unified on.
Democrats who truly believe in the importance and power of unity should be rallying together on this healthcare issue, they should be rallying together to save lives, to save children, to make a real and true difference in our country. They should be rallying for single-payer. That’s a call for unity that people will hear.