The past few days leading up to the formal release yesterday of the U.S. Senate’s so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, the latest version of long-sought legislation to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 health care overhaul the Affordable Care Act, have been a major disaster politically both for the Republican Party generally and the highest-ranking Republican in Colorado, Sen. Cory Gardner.
Gardner was once considered one of the prime movers in a select panel of Republican Senators drafting that chamber’s version of an Obamacare repeal after the House’s much-celebrated bill was declared DOA owing to its…well, for lack of a better term, its casualty count. The failure of Republicans to craft legislation to repeal Obamacare without doing tremendous harm to the millions who have directly benefitted from the law is a growing political nightmare for Gardner, who campaigned heavily on the whole slate of factually-dubious arguments against Obamacare that were popular during the Tea Party movement of 2009-2010.
Yesterday, as Denver7’s Blair Miller reports, the bad news continued to rain down on Gardner:
Gardner told Denver7 Wednesday he hadn’t seen a text version of the bill despite being one of a handful of Republicans working in small groups to craft the bill. Senate Republicans wrote their own bill after the House of Representatives passed its version, the American Health Care Act, in early May…
Gardner slammed those who he said were jumping to conclusions about the bill without fully analyzing it.
“It’s frustrating that instead of actually reviewing the legislative text some have decided to immediately oppose the bill before it was even introduced,” Gardner told Denver7 in a statement. “This deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.” [Pols emphasis]
First of all, after the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency have been dominated by debate over the repeal of Obamacare, it’s absurd to claim that any reaction to this latest bill is “knee-jerk.” Everyone following this debate understands what Republicans are working toward here, and the overwhelming public opposition to basically every part of this repeal process is not going to be quelled by the relatively minor differences from one bill to another.
Somewhere in the midst of yesterday’s busy news cycle, it appears Team Gardner realized that “knee-jerk reaction” statement was itself not very well thought out. We quoted yesterday from a Denver Post story by reporter Mark Matthews, which frankly questioned Gardner’s complaints in the context of his purported leadership role in the drafting effort. Sometime yesterday afternoon, the story we quoted from was completely removed from the Denver Post’s website, and replaced with a new story at the same URL that contains none of the previous story’s context. Gardner’s “knee-jerk reaction” quote is nowhere to be found in the new story, in which Gardner is now quoted as wanting to slow down the process–and implying without any real confirmation from Gardner that he might oppose the bill he allegedly helped create.
What happened here, you ask? It’s pretty obvious, really, and we want to be clear that we’re not trying to beat up Matthews in calling this out. In the business of politics and political journalism in particular, a common tactic is known as “working the refs”–aggressively either courting or lambasting journalists as needed to cast a story in the most favorable frame possible. Matthews’ original version, which we have reprinted in its entirety after the jump for educational purposes, clearly did not please Gardner or his aides, and they took action to get it replaced.
Prevailing upon a reporter to completely rewrite a critical story into a much less critical one, especially after thousands of people saw the original, to us demonstrates clearly how nervous Gardner and his team is over this legislation. Gardner’s swiftly-eroding approval in his home state is most certainly weighing heavily on his mind, even with re-election still a few years away. As the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Gardner can also see the damage this is doing to candidates he has to get re-elected next year. This is not just a needle has has to thread for himself, but for his whole party. We’ll never know if Team Gardner was nice to Matthews about it, but to the news-consuming public, that’s not what matters.
The only thing that matters is what they read in the paper today. The original story in question follows.
Cory Gardner begins to “carefully review” Senate health care bill he helped shape
By MARK K. MATTHEWS | email@example.com | The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: June 22, 2017 at 11:55 am
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday released their long-awaited plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the initial response from Colorado’s Cory Gardner, one of several in the chamber charged with that task, was one of caution.
“This is the first I’ve viewed the legislation, so I am beginning to carefully review it as we continue to look at ways to rescue Colorado from the continued negative impacts of the Affordable Care Act on our health care system,” Gardner said in a Thursday statement. “It’s frustrating that instead of actually reviewing the legislative text some have decided to immediately oppose the bill before it was even introduced. This deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.”
On one level, the response makes sense. The full proposal was presented to Gardner and the rest of the Republican caucus for the first time Thursday morning and reading the bill — let alone understanding it — is a process that could take hours, given its length of 142 pages.
On the other hand, it’s a curious reaction, given the context of Gardner’s role in crafting the bill, the politics of health care reform and his comments about the legislation in recent days.
Gardner was one of 13 Republican senators named to the team in charge of preparing the proposal, a move that generated its own controversy for its lack of diversity — as no women were part of the panel. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later said all Republicans could provide input).
These 13 senators, presumably, would have a better idea of what was in the bill than just about anyone else in the Senate, let alone the country.
But Gardner this week said his role was much more limited — in that he provided broad input on policy rather than help write the bill’s actual language. In an interview with Denver7, he described it as a “working group” scenario in which he didn’t have access to the text until the last minute.
A day before, he told The Denver Post that the bill-writing process should have been more open, with public hearings to debate the legislation. He also claimed he long had called for public hearings — though his staff couldn’t provide prior examples of that request.
What to make then of his comments Thursday and earlier this week?
Any discussion must start with the process in which Senate Republicans are expected to try and pass the health care proposal.
To get it through the upper chamber, the GOP needs a minimum of 50 votes. And with 52 Republicans in the Senate — and Democrats expected to unite in opposition — that means McConnell can lose no more than two members of his party to succeed.
Then too is the difficult balancing act between conservative Republicans who want to wipe out the Affordable Care Act and those who want to preserve some elements, such as consumer protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
A critical issue for Gardner has been the issue of Medicaid.
Under the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded the number of residents covered by Medicaid and in the process cut the number of Coloradans without health insurance from nearly 15.8 percent in 2011 to 6.7 percent in 2015, according to the Colorado Health Institute.
The plan passed by the House Republicans in May would end that expansion in 2020; the Senate version also seeks to unwind that expansion and cap federal funding for Medicaid, which provides insurance for low-income residents and those with disabilities.
Gardner previously has urged caution about the speed in which the Medicaid expansion is rolled back — though he hasn’t said Republicans shouldn’t do it — and it’s one area in which Gardner has provided significant feedback to the bill-writing team.
How he addresses that issue in the days ahead will be telling. McConnell has targeted next week for a vote but said the legislation would be open to changes beforehand.
Another consideration is how analysts with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “score” the bill by its cost and effect on the insurance market. The House version — which bears similarities to the Senate proposal — would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion but lead to the loss of insurance for 23 million Americans by 2026, according to the CBO analysis.
Of course, there are the politics of Gardner and the Affordable Care Act. The Republican lawmaker has been a longtime critic of the law, also known as Obamacare, and he began his successful 2014 run for Senate with a pledge to repeal the health care initiative.
Among Republicans, there’s an expectation he will follow through on that promise, a desire driven by the law’s mandates and fines, as well as recent rate increases for Coloradans who buy their own health insurance (although many qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act).
In addition, as a member of Senate GOP leadership — Gardner is chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — he would be hard-pressed to oppose legislation that has been a defining issue for Republicans over the last several years.
Recent polls, however, have shown support for the law in Colorado, a state that supported Hillary Clinton in her failed presidential bid against Donald Trump.
Depending on what happens to the legislation, it could be a critical issue for Gardner headed into his 2020 re-election — a race in which he would share the ballot with Trump.
His public comments this week — on the need for public hearings and his inability to see the bill until the last minute — could be an attempt to distance himself from the legislation. Or it could be a negotiating tactic with McConnell and other Republicans. Or it simply could be his read of the situation.
What is certain, however, is that Gardner’s actions over the next several days are sure to be among the most consequential of his first Senate term.