On Monday afternoon, about one hour after the Congressional Budget Office released its report estimating, among other unwelcome pieces of news, that 24 million more people would be uninsured under the American Health Care Act, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt stepped off the subway at the Capitol. When he caught sight of several reporters waiting to ask him about it, he promptly began walking back the way he came, down the tunnel footpath.
When a reporter caught up to the fleeing senator, he changed his mind and decided to proceed to the Senate after all. That didn’t mean that he—like most of his Senate colleagues—would have much to say. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet,” he said. He did note, however, that CBO scores are “never quite right,” pointing to how Medicare Part D came in well below its projected cost.
The House never returned for the week and canceled its Tuesday votes due to the upcoming snowstorm. So Republicans in the Senate, who came Monday night to vote on confirming a Health and Human Services agency administrator, were stuck fielding all the questions about House Republicans’ crappy CBO report.
Sen. Orrin Hatch had not had a chance to look at it. When I relayed the 24 million figure to him, he simply offered, “That’s what it says.” In his flattest voice, Sen. Ted Cruz repeated several times, to several different questions, that he was still “reviewing the report.” Sen. Chuck Grassley hadn’t looked. Sen. Jeff Flake hadn’t looked. Sen. Roger Wicker hadn’t looked. Sen. Tom Cotton, asked if he’d had a chance to read it, replied, “It’s long!”
Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who had put forward a rival bill with moderate Sen. Susan Collins, won the day’s honesty prize. He said the report was “awful.”
“President Trump said he wants as many people covered as under Obamacare,” he said. “And so if there’s truly—what is it, 14 million people?” A reporter confirmed that was the figure for the first year, and it would rise to 24 million in ensuing years. “Yeah, of course it’s a concern! I mean, I try to avoid hyperbole and adjectives—kind of an Ernest Hemingway way of speaking—but still, it’s just, how we say, concerning.”
It comes as little surprise that Senate Democrats did find the time to either read or brief themselves on CBO’s findings. It struck me that there was no variation in their disgust across the spectrum. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin—whom we might call the left and right poles of the Senate Democratic caucus—each spoke with a voice full of loathing.
“Legislation that would throw 24 million people off of health insurance, raise premiums for older, low-income Americans, while at the same time [providing] $285 billion in tax breaks for the top 2 percent, is a disgusting and immoral piece of legislation that should not go forward,” Sanders—who in fact rarely speaks to reporters in the Capitol—said, before walking into the Senate. “If this legislation is passed, there is no question: Thousands of Americans will die—will die—because they will not be able to go to the doctor when they need to.”
“If you’re older, you get murdered. If you’re [on the Medicaid] expansion, it’s unfair,” Manchin said. “And then they put on top of that tax cuts … I’ve said this: You’ve got to have a moral compass inside of you, and that’s just not right. You can’t do that.” President Trump’s plan to fly into red states to pressure vulnerable Democrats into supporting the legislation may not bear much fruit if this is what the conservative West Virginia Democrat is saying.
For most of the quiet Republicans, not having had a chance to read the CBO report is a justifiable excuse—an hour or 90 minutes after it’s come out. That gets them through the day. By the next time they’re in session, they’ll have to start saying that they can’t read.