Murky machi­na­tions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­ Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

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.

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