The New York Times published Saturday one of those insiders’ analyses that are staples of its reporting. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, the senior and previously invisible Republican from Arkansas, got collaterally exposed.
By the accounting of the article, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s prospects are dimming for producing a GOP majority for a repeal-and-replace measure for Obamacare.
Basically, the story is that health care is complicated.
If you do a little something to your repeal-and-replace bill to bring ultra-conservatives closer to support, then you lose Republican moderates worried about Medicaid expansion for their states.
If you do a little something for Medicaid-expansion states to bring moderates closer to support, then you lose ultra-conservatives opposing Medicaid expansion.
You also risk losing garden-variety conservatives representing states that did not choose Medicaid expansion. They’re opposed to the notion that, post-Obamacare, states that chose expansion would continue to get more money than their states, which essentially would be punished for being more conservatively pure.
There are 52 Republican senators. Fifty-one votes are needed for passage. Only two GOP senators can vote “no” and preserve Vice President Mike Pence’s authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.
When you start compiling the lists of opposing or reluctant Republican senators, for whatever conflicting reasons, you get to double-digits before you know it.
You have the anti-government conservatives—Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee. You have the moderate protectors of Medicaid—Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski and Shelly Moore Capito. Just lately you have problem-citers Jerry Moran of Kansas and John Hoeven of North Dakota, representing rural states that need local hospitals and local clinics and local pharmacies.
And then, in the third paragraph, the Times reported: “Three other Republican senators—Bob Corker of Tennessee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and John Boozman of Arkansas—have withheld their support, although they have not declared their opposition.”
It was jarring to read Boozman’s name in an article presuming to have anything to do with relevance in the Senate.
But it was endearing as well. It indicated that Boozman, though too timid or position-averse to say so, might be trying to find a way to do the right thing for his constituents.
The conundrum is that Arkansas voters have so overwhelmingly embraced a party averse to their interests that Boozman, if he wants to attend to their interest, is obliged not to tell them he is attending to their interest.
That’s especially so if he is attending more to his Republican governor’s budgetary interest than his constituents’ health interest.
“Withholding support” is not precisely the same as being opposed.
I could hear Boozman saying to McConnell: “Mitch, you know I love you, man. I can’t think of a single time when I haven’t given you a vote if you needed it. And I know that Obamacare is just horrible. It’s not sustainable, Mitch. It’s just not. We’ve got to do something. But my governor—you might know him, Asa Hutchinson … he’s got me all twisted up. He says that, if we do to Medicaid what he says we’d do to Medicaid in this bill, then he’s out of business. I mean out of business, Mitch. I’m gonna have a hard time doing that to my state. I don’t want to have to choose between you and my state, but gosh darn, Mitch … I’m in a mess.”
And I can hear McConnell saying, “Just relax, man. I got bigger problems on this bill than you. Just don’t come out against me and I’ll only make you vote ‘yes’ if I absolutely need you.”
Which he will, if he ever gets close enough to take a vote.
Iasked Boozman’s office if the Times report was accurate. I also asked for the basis of his withholding support, if indeed he was doing that, as well as for an explanation of the changes he’d require in the bill before he could support it.
Boozman’s press aide replied that he didn’t know what the Times was basing the report on. He said the senator had told everybody the same thing. That was a statement June 27 that Obamacare was unsustainable and that he was going to work on the Senate bill and with others on amendments if they had any.
The Times report seems rather clearly to have been based on information gleaned from McConnell’s staff. As for the June 27 statement, Boozman could have expressed himself more succinctly and clearly simply by shrugging or saying, “beats me.”
The state’s other senator, Tom Cotton, is quiet for the first time in his brief and skyrocketing political career. He thinks this health issue might get resolved one way or the other without his having to choose between his right-wing base and his governor back home.
If the Times analysis is right, Cotton soon may be in the clear.