Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

Conservative senator to House GOP: ‘Start over’ on health care

Updated
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is in a fairly unusual position. On the one hand, he’s an ambitious, far-right Republican, a loyal partisan, and a fierce red-state critic of anything related to Barack Obama’s presidency. When looking for GOP senators who’d be inclined to support the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act – what some are calling “Trumpcare” – one might assume the Arkansan would stick with his party.

But on the other hand, Cotton recently hosted a contentious town-hall forum with his constituents, where he was reminded that Arkansas has benefited more from the Affordable Care Act than almost any other state. The senator may hate “Obamacare,” but he also isn’t eager to strip away health security for hundreds of thousands of people in his home state.

And with that in mind, when Cotton this morning called on House Republicans to “start over” on a new reform bill, it jolted GOP politics quite a bit.
[Cotton] drew swift attention Thursday morning when he tweeted that the House should “start over” in its process. “House health-care bill can’t pass Senate [without] major changes. To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast,” Cotton wrote from his political account.

“GOP shouldn’t act like Dems did in O’care. No excuse to release bill Mon night, start voting Wed. With no budget estimate!” he continued. “What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, NOT House leaders’ arbitrary legislative calendar.”
Let’s note for the record that Cotton is mistaken about how the Affordable Care Act was passed.

But even putting this aside, the Arkansas senator’s online comments carried considerable weight and reinforce perceptions that “Trumpcare” is in serious trouble.

Remember, while the fate of the AHCA is unclear in the House – Speaker Paul Ryan this week “guaranteed” passage, but he’s the only one who appears convinced – its chances in the Senate deteriorate more every day. If only three Senate Republicans balk in the upper chamber, the bill dies.

As of yesterday, I counted seven GOP senators who’ve publicly expressed skepticism, if not outright opposition, and adding Cotton to the mix brings the new total to eight. (Texas’ Ted Cruz also raised criticisms yesterday, upping the number of possible opponents to nine – six more than necessary to kill the bill.)

These developments are also emblematic of Paul Ryan’s colossal screw-up. The Republican Speaker not only wrote a bad bill behind closed doors, he didn’t even try to secure any buy-in from stakeholders, governors, Democrats, or as Cotton is reminding us, senators in Ryan’s own party.

And yet, at least for now, House Republicans just don’t seem to care. On Tuesday, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) expressed outrage that the Affordable Care Act was “written in the dark of night and rushed through Congress.” Brady’s committee nevertheless quickly moved to the markup phase of his party’s reform bill culminating in a vote at 4:30 a.m. this morning.

In other words, the Republican health care plan passed out of committee “exactly 58.5 hours after it was introduced,” even though members, by their own admission, have no idea how much the proposal would cost, how many Americans would cover, or even how it would work if applied.

I don’t agree with Tom Cotton about much of anything, but his advice to the Republican-led House appears sound: “Pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast.”

* Correction: I originally misstated a detail about a Ways & Means committee hearing. The above text has been corrected.

Health Care and Tom Cotton

Conservative senator to House GOP: 'Start over' on health care

Updated