Which Way Is This Thing Going?

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., faces reporters as the GOP works on its long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, during a news conference at Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., 
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.,
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., 
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the Republican Conference,
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

It’s been very difficult for a number of days to see how Paul Ryan cobbles together enough votes to pass this mess of a bill. But my touchstone has been, logic and math aside, that the GOP simply cannot afford to let Obamacare repeal die. That scale of a political flop on such an important issue this early in the new era of GOP-unified government would be a catastrophe that no party would willingly endure. But the numbers are the numbers. You have to have the votes. And right now it’s not at all clear that they do.

Alice Ollstein just checked in from the Hill, where Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) told reporters, “Obviously, I’m not sure we’ve landed it. I’m wanting to be hopeful that we can get there today, but at this point I don’t know how many we’re short. I won’t speculate.”

Walker, who is a yes vote, is the chair of the Republican Study Committee, a large bloc of conservative members, not quite as militantly conservative as the Freedom Caucus, but still a key group Ryan will need to count on.

As I write, news is emerging that bill won’t have support from Ryan’s Appropriations Committee chair, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). The President himself just gave its prospects a very non-Trumpian assessment: “We’ll see.”

The two most plausible scenarios are whisker-thin passage or a wholesale defeat. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but if this looks unlikely to pass it’s possible that we’ll see widespread desertions over the next few hours ahead of a late afternoon vote. No one wants to be on the hook for this indefensible bill if it’s going to fail anyway. I’m not predicting that, but only because with the stakes this high I keep thinking the GOP will find a way to get its act together, even to pass a bill that could saddle them politically for years. But there’s not a lot of reason to be confident right now that they will pull this out.

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