The current Senate healthcare bill was sunk when Sen. Ted Cruz, running past his erstwhile partner in legislating Sen. Mike Lee, worked with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to rewrite a "consumer freedom" provision aimed at bridging conservative and moderate concerns.
Once Cruz cut a deal with McConnell (a "tweak" as the supporters called it), it left the "freedom" provision with insufficient freedom, Lee's office argues, and the Utah conservative jumped ship. The third Republican in opposition, his decision doomed the legislation.
Asked if Lee was angered by Cruz's decision to go it alone, a source familiar with the thinking of the Utah Republican said "not at all."
The "Consumer Freedom Amendment" would have allowed insurers to sell plans free from Obamacare regulation — in other words, sell plans whose pricing and benefits are determined by the market — as long as they also sell plans that comport with Obamacare's costly regs. The result would be a free market in insurance plans for low-risk customers, and a variety of subsidized, regulated plans for high-risk customers, such as those with costly pre-existing conditions.
The Cruz-McConnell "tweak" would have prohibited insurers from creating different risk pools for these two different types of plans. Lee concluded Monday night that this would defeat the purpose of the amendment.
The Cruz-Lee policy break was dramatic and unexpected. "Cruz pitched [the updated amendment] to him Wednesday night," Lee spokesman Conn Carroll told me last week, "but it was news to us Thursday that it was going to be in the bill."
That shock was evident Thursday when Lee publicly disowned the update on Twitter. In retrospect, it seems evident that the policy implications coupled heightened by political shock more than drove Lee's opposition. The senator said as much last night.
"A version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment was incorporated into the new Senate health care bill," Lee wrote in the Resurgent, referring to the McConnell-Cruz compromise. "But the new version still forces insurance companies to follow Obamacare's ‘single pool' regulation."
That little tweak, Lee wrote pointing to new government analysis, could "raise insurance premiums for people on freedom plans by $600 a year." And so Lee said no.
Of course, it didn't have to be this way. As Lee seemed to insinuate last night, leaving the Consumer Protection Amendment unchanged would've secured his vote.
Asked whether Cruz pulled the rug out from under Lee, a source familiar with the Texas senator's thinking said the McConnell deal wasn't out of the blue. "It became clear," the source told me last week, "that the Consumer Protection Option, as originally presented, was going to be amended."
The fate of Obamacare remains unclear now that the Republican replacement bill went up in flames. But it's clear that dynamic between Cruz and Lee has shifted.
The goodwill once secured by a government shutdown, endorsements, and numerous selfies including one with stuffed jungle cat was forgotten during the healthcare debate. One wonders if Cruz and Lee will remember each other going forward.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.