Early yesterday, The Washington Post's Robert Costa reported that a senior White House official said that a vote on the House bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare was just days away. New legislative language based on a tentative deal struck between conservative moderate factions would circulate over the weekend, and a vote would be held on Wednesday of next week.
But Republican leaders in Congress immediately cast doubt on the notion. "There is no legislative text and therefore no agreement to do a whip count on," a GOP aide told Politico. The White House's claim that a vote was in the works was bunk—misinformation spread to the media in hopes of generating momentum on a bill that remains stalled.
This is how the Trump administration tends to work. It substitutes empty hype for real achievement, hoping that no one will be able to tell the difference. It's a marketing gimmick, not governance—and it's an old tactic from Trump, who employed it as a real estate developer.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened with the health care bill. In January, Trump said that an Obamacare replacement was "very much formulated down to the final strokes" and that the plan would provide "insurance for everybody," and would have "lower numbers, lower deductibles." House Republicans didn't release a bill for almost a month and a half. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the GOP plan, 14 million fewer people would have coverage the following year alone, a figure that would rise to 24 million after a decade. (A leaked document indicated the White House's own internal estimates put the total loss even higher.) Trump's January description of the plan was all empty bluster.
Something similar, meanwhile, appears to have happened again today. A senior White House official—again unnamed—told CNBC that the Senate Budget Committee was working on health care legislation in hopes that it could be sent out today or tomorrow. That's an odd claim, because the Senate Budget Committee wouldn't be the ones to draw up legislation. In fact, according to Jonathan Swan of Axios, it appears that the Senate committee was just reviewing language for technical reasons.
The Trump administration is trying to build momentum where little or none exists by manufacturing the appearance of energy and activity.
Trump used this same sort of deception before he became involved in politics. As Carlos Lozada wrote in a 2015 Washington Post review of Trump's books, Trump has long believed that the way to create interest in a project is to trick people into believing that it is already in the works:
In [The Art of the Deal], Trump, then 41, explains the power of psychology and deception — he calls it "bravado" or "truthful hyperbole" — in his early real estate acquisitions. Before he was a brand name, he had to convince people that he was worth their time. It was small things here and there. Like asking his architect to gussy up the sketches for a hotel so it seemed like they spent huge sums on the plans, boosting interest in his proposal. Or having a construction crew drive machinery back and forth on a site in Atlantic City so that the visiting board of directors would be duped into thinking the work was far along. "If necessary," he instructed a supervisor, "have the bulldozers dig up dirt on one side of the site and dump it on the other."
"I play to people's fantasies," Trump explains. ".?.?. It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion." Perception is reality, he writes, and achieving an "aura" (a recurring word in his writings) around his projects, his ideas and himself is essential.
And with some Trump projects, there really wasn't anything more than the illusion of activity. The Trump Ocean Resort, a Southern California condo project that Trump pitched personally, collected $32 million from prospective buyers, but was never completed.
It remains to be seen whether the Obamacare replace project will turn out to be a complete illusion or not. But the constant trial balloons and whispers of momentum where there is none shouldn't instill much confidence, because they suggest that Trump doesn't really understand what the problem is.
The problem for the GOP health care bill isn't lack of momentum. It's that the underlying bill is incoherent and widely disliked, and House Republicans don't agree on what the policy should be. And Trump, who dismissed the policy details driving disagreement as "little shit," does not appear to have any interest in grappling with those policy differences. Deceptive marketing gimmicks might sell real estate, but they don't solve policy problems.