Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised on Thursday to provide "ample time" for "robust debate" with an "open amendment process" regarding the draft healthcare reform bill he had just released.
But he also is reported to be insisting that the Senate vote on it before July 4.
He can't do both. And he darn well better ditch the second goal in order to uphold the first promise.
The public is far from sold on Republican legislative efforts to replace Obamacare. Republicans will need time, and a serious explanatory effort, to sell its proposal.
Of course, it usually takes a president to lead the sales effort on such a major piece of legislation. The current president is not able to provide such an effort: He doesn't explain things well, doesn't have the propensity or the skill to persuade those who aren't already inclined to his side, and has a style that actively "turns off" at least as many people as it appeals to.
The Senate will not pass a bill, especially on a quick vote, unless some skeptical senators see the public rallying behind it. Without a president to take the lead, painstaking work must be done by legislative leaders to attract such a rally.
One piece of such work should be a serious effort to make the bill bipartisan. The public is far more likely to trust a bill that has at least a bit of bipartisan veneer than one that seems like a Republican railroad job. There surely must be a way to get at least one or two Democrats up for re-election in 2018 — West Virginia's Joe Manchin, North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana's Joe Donnelly — to play ball without losing too many Republican votes either from the right or the center.
But it's impossible to build support within the Senate, much less from the public, without taking the time to get people personally invested in the process. This may be counter-intuitive to say, but Senate debate and horse-trading can actually augment, rather than retard, a sense of common purpose and of thoughtful reform.
At the very start, however, Senate Republicans must identify somebody in its ranks — surely there must be someone — who knows how to communicate well, in an accessibly explanatory fashion. That person (I nominate Nebraska's Ben Sasse at least to be considered for such a role) should do a national address, possibly with easily understandable charts, to lay out for the public the major goals of reform and its major elements. (Either the Republican National Committee or a non-secretive political action committee should buy the airtime.)
The address should, in language as clear as President Ronald Reagan used, answer these questions: Why is Obamacare a failure? What are Republican goals for a different system? How will the Republican proposal protect access to care while containing costs? In what way will greater private choice and freedom, alternative solutions such as health savings accounts, and fewer government mandates all lead to coverage options better tailored to each individual's needs?
Surely Republicans have good enough speech writers and a reassuring-enough elected leader to make clear what to the public now is opaque, to put in understandable context what right now is a confusing jumble, and to explain the conservative approach to healthcare in a way that highlights it as a matter of attractive principles and actually workable compassion rather than as an exercise in heartless accounting.
After such a public kick-off to the Senate's legislative enterprise, Senate leadership should foster a focused debate with an openness to constructive tweaks from any quarter. And the Senate should forget any scheduled legislative "recesses," instead continuing the task until it rather organically reaches a successful conclusion.
Yes, this can be done. It can be done in a way that makes senators (and, later, House members) want to be associated with it, rather than fearful. It can be done so as to inspire public acclaim rather than arousing widespread suspicion and doubt.
And it must be done. Consensus must be built. Faith in the legislative process must be restored. Obamacare must be replaced with a market-centered system — because that's the best way to get people the care they need.
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.
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