They're all Ted Cruz: "Reasonable" Senate Republicans are just as irresponsible as the Tea Party charlatan on Obamacare

Senate GOP leaders are worried about Ted Cruz's health care hijinks. Maybe they should worry about their own?

By Jim Newell
Published June 16, 2015 4:56PM (EDT)
Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell   (Reuters/Brian Snyder/James Lawler Duggan/Photo montage by Salon)
Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell (Reuters/Brian Snyder/James Lawler Duggan/Photo montage by Salon)

Oh dear, the poor Responsible Senate Republicans. Their showboating junior colleagues in the Senate who are running for president, like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, are going to make the would-be process of "fixing" Obamacare in the event of a King v. Burwell decision striking down premium subsidies very difficult. The Responsible, Senior, Statesmanlike Senate Republicans understand that you can't just pull the plug on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act overnight without risking political blowback from its beneficiaries.

Eliminating Obamacare overnight is precisely what these responsible policymakers fear Ted Cruz will call for. And since the Senate is an archaic institution based on 18th-century aristocratic manners, Cruz could cause all sorts of turmoil in the chamber. (Not to mention in his side-gig as House Conservative Whisperer.)

Politico reports today that the GOP is "rife with tensions" about which strategy to follow should John Roberts & co. find for plaintiffs in the infamous Actually, millions of people weren't supposed to get subsidies case. That's why neither the House nor the Senate Republican conferences are showing their cards until SCOTUS forces them to: you don't want to invite hatred from the base with a plan that even temporarily extends subsidies unless necessary.

Cruz, like many of the House conservatives, will call for full Obamacare repeal as the preferable response. (He adds, though: "at a minimum, we should allow states to opt out.") He's willing to allow for a six-month transition period, though, for the country to readjust to its pre-ACA utopia of unregulated individual health insurance markets where people can be denied coverage for having a pimple. Don't say he never did anything nice for you, America.

This upsets Senate leaders. They want the Cruz and his flock of hard-right conservatives to take their medicine and perform the duties they've been sworn to uphold. "Things can’t be turned on a dime,” John Cornyn, the Senate's #2 Republican, tells Politico. “People can run for president, but we’ve actually got to solve a problem. John Thune, the #3 Republican -- and yes, the very same John Thune -- admits that "[c]orralling our presidentials on a plan or a solution is going to be a bit of a challenge." Indeed. Hopefully they can be brought down to Planet Earth.

But what exactly is Planet Earth for the Senate Republican leaders? So far, the plan that's garnered the most support within the conference is the "moderate" one that Sen. Ron Johnson introduced to boost his flailing reelection chances. It would eliminate the individual and employer mandates as well as streamline essential benefit requirements, while extending subsidies into 2017. Here's our man laying it out in the Politico piece, offering a reality check to Cruz and others who might dare engage in political gamesmanship with the health care of millions on the line:

“It would hurt real people. That’s something any member of Congress, any public elected official, has got to respond to,” said Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who faces a tough reelection next year. He’s the author of a leading Republican plan to respond to the court’s ruling by extending the subsidies for 18 months, but scrapping the employer and individual mandates, a nonstarter for Democrats. "You just can’t stop something cold turkey. It’s not responsible. It’s not a fair thing to do."

Not responsible. Not fair. Any public elected official has the obligation to offer a fair fix.

The only problem here is that neither Ron Johnson nor any of the Senate Republican leaders have anything more honest to offer. What they propose, really, is in even worse faith than Ted Cruz's call for full repeal. The Johnson bill would break health insurance markets by lopping off various legs of the Obamacare stool. They know that. And they know that President Obama will veto it, which will allow them to say -- again, in extremely bad faith -- that Obama wanted the subsidies restored, but then he vetoed it! It is not a responsible piece of legislation to ensure the smooth functioning of health insurance markets. It is political cover for the chaos they're fanning.

Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, and Mitch McConnell have no authority to argue that Ted Cruz is being the irresponsible one here, the charlatan who would obstruct their ability to move grown-up legislation, until they first unveil grown-up legislation.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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