As widely predicted in this space and elsewhere, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have come out in quick opposition to the first draft (as written) of the Senate's version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). But for weeks now, the parlor game in Washington has been: Which Republican would have the courage (or is it opportunism?) to join them, thereby tipping the whip count to 51-49 against, and potentially incurring the same kind of wrath that President Donald Trump deployed so effectively against the House Freedom Caucus?
The answer just came—Paul/Lee's fellow Tea Party senators, Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.). Johnson had been pretty vocal last night about the rushed and secretive drafting process, while Cruz has been oscillating between his personae as Mr. Anti-Obamacare and someone who wants to "get to yes."
The senators' joint statement is being read by many progressives as a negotiating ploy—they do say they're "open to negotiation," after all—but there's a poison pill at the end that may prove too difficult to digest:
Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor. There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.
Italics mine. As Peter Suderman pointed out when the legislation was posted this morning, and as both Suderman and the yes-voting members of the Freedom Caucus (as well as Rand Paul and others) acknowledged when the AHCA passed the House, both versions of the GOP's 2017 health care revamp leave the basic structure of Obamacare in place (albeit with less taxation, fewer mandates, and less coverage). No bill that has come within miles of either the House or Senate floor has fulfilled that "most important promise" to "repeal Obamacare." For the Tea Party Four to change their "no" votes to yes, there would either have to be an astonishingly fast root-and-branch re-write of the bill or a brazen heel-turn on the clear and declarative statement they just made.
Ted Cruz as I type this is saying "We can get this done, we can get to yes," and stressing that the "single biggest" improvement he's looking for is to "lower the cost of premiums." He also wants more state flexibility. And Rand Paul told reporters, "The intention is not to take down the bill," it's "to make the bill better." So we shall see.