“In This Form”

The big news this afternoon is that Sen. Heller of Nevada says he opposes the Senate’s current health care repeal bill “in this form.” It is important to understand what this means. It is not opposition to the bill. It’s a bid to negotiate. And beyond that, all but certainly it is an effort to extract some minor concessions that will be the justification for voting for the bill and making it law.

Let’s cover some key information. Sen. Heller is by far the most endangered GOP senator in 2018. Speaking in a purely strategic sense he’s in a very, very tough position. The gambit here is to play for time and try to extract some concession that he will use as a rationale for voting for the bill. If the wheels come off and the bill dies on its own (something I believe is quite unlikely but by no means impossible) he will be able to say he opposed it all along and even argue that he helped kill it.

But here’s the key. Heller says he cannot support the bill “in this form.” But there is no plausible version of this bill that won’t take insurance away from at least 20 million people, bring back the nightmare of preexisting condition exclusions, lifetime limits and all the rest. Anything else simply isn’t plausible. So by saying he won’t support the bill “in this form” Heller is saying, as clear as day, that his vote is gettable in exchange for minor or cosmetic changes.

That may sound ungenerous or cynical. But legislative politics is something I know as well as I know anything. That is how this works. This isn’t opposition. It’s negotiation. Heller is looking for the terms he feels he needs to say yes.

If the fate of the 24 million matter to you, if you’re fighting the very uphill fight to block this repeal bill, do not be fooled by this. This is game playing. Heller is positioning for a way to say yes.

Does this mean it’s hopeless? Not at all. But see Heller right now as someone who’s trying to trick you. When he really opposes this bill it will be obvious. This isn’t opposing. It’s a bid for a few morsels before he says yes.

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