Just days after being diagnosed with and undergoing surgery for an aggressive form of brain cancer, Arizona Senator John McCain returned to the Senate floor for the first time since his diagnosis. The timing could not have been better for the Republicans’ attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as Obamacare, as his appearance and words seemed to rouse the final holdouts of the GOP. The future of this latest incarnation of the repeal and replace effort is far from certain, but thanks to Sen. McCain, the bill will have its chance in the Senate.
The repeal and replace bill has been quite the hurdle – all the Republicans apparently agree that Obamacare must go, but each of them seems to have a different opinion on just how that should happen. Some favor complete repeal, but others demand varying forms of replacement. Entitlements are notoriously difficult to revoke – and some have suggested repealing for now and replacing later. This might seem like the answer, but those who require some form of replacement balk at the suggestion – they fear that should they repeal the ACA now, a replacement would never come.
With a majority of 52-48 and Democrats staunchly defending their legacy, Republicans could only afford to lose two votes on the discussion – two votes that they lost right out of the gates, according to Fox News:
The result was kept in suspense for a while. Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, voted no from the start. Several other Republican senators then delayed casting their vote, with no wiggle room left for additional defections on the GOP side.
Applause then broke out as McCain entered the chamber, pointing at his colleagues and shaking hands. As he joined, the last GOP holdout, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., voted with the Arizona senator to start debate.
Sen. McCain spoke of the honored traditions and the greatness of the United States Senate, but sought to shame his colleagues as well as inspire them:
The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress in solving America’s problems and defend her from her adversaries. That principle mindset, and the service of our predecessors who possessed it, comes to mind when I hear the Senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today. I’m sure it wasn’t always deserved in previous eras either, but I’m sure there have been times when it was, and I was privileged to witness some of those occasions.
Our deliberations today, not just our debates, but the exercise of all of our responsibilities – authorizing government policies, appropriating the funds to implement them, exercising our advice and consent role – are often lively and interesting. They can be sincere and principled, but they’re more partisan – more tribal – more of the time than at any time that I can remember.
Our deliberations can still be important and useful, but I think we all agree they haven’t been overburdened by greatness lately. And right now, they aren’t producing much for the American people. Both sides have let this happen. Let’s leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they’ll fine we all conspired in our decline, either by deliberate actions or neglect. We’ve all played some role in it – certainly I have. Sometimes I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes I’ve made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy. Incremental progress – compromises that each side criticizes, but also accepts – just plain muddling through to chip away at problems and to keep our enemies from doing their worst isn’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel like a political triumph, but it’s usually the most we can expect from our system of government.
Love him or hate him – and all of America seems to be on one side or the other – Senator John McCain undeniably saved the day by uniting all but two of the Republican majority. It was a tight victory though, leaving only Vice President Pence’s vote to break the tie. What emerges from the Senate floor might not look much like the bill that entered, and whatever the Senate comes up with must be acceptable to the House as well. A final repeal and replacement may still be a long way out, but thanks to Sen. McCain, at least the incremental process will continue – and the Senate will muddle through the debate that likely wouldn’t otherwise have been.
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