It looked like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had come up with a fairly clever scheme. Unfortunately for him, it died yesterday when his fellow House Republicans refused to go along.
The gambit was a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Cantor thought he’d come up with a way to severely undermine the Affordable Care Act – the House would pass a bill to strip federal funds from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps states set up the exchanges that are needed to make the ACA work. The proposal would then divert that money into existing-but- underfunded high-risk pools for the uninsured – a favorite GOP health care policy – that help people with pre-existing conditions buy subsidized coverage.
For Cantor, the plan checked a lot of boxes. If the exchanges are gutted, implementing “Obamacare” would be nearly impossible. At the same time, voters were supposed to see this and say, “See? House Republicans really are interested in providing solutions to problems people face in the real world.” As a matter of public policy, this was an awful idea, but the whole endeavor was billed as an element in the party’s “rebranding” campaign.
So what happened? Cantor’s plan failed miserably because his own allies balked.
On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda – a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions – in the face of a conservative revolt. […]
Items that Mr. Cantor had hoped would change the Republican Party’s look, if not its priorities, have been ignored, have been greeted with yawns or have only worsened Republican divisions.
Cantor expected Democratic opposition and he received it – House Dems immediately saw through the scheme and the White House issued a veto threat yesterday morning.
But that wasn’t the majority leader’s real problem. Rather, far-right lawmakers, activists, and organizations saw Cantor’s proposal as an effort to “fix” the Affordable Care Act by investing in high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.
For the left, Cantor’s “Helping Sick Americans Now Act” was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For the right, it was just a sheep to be slaughtered.
Republican leaders assumed that if they just explained the legislation to their own members – this was about cutting “Obamacare” off at the knees, not actually improving the law – they’d have enough support to pass the bill. But House Republicans wouldn’t listen, seeing this as a misguided effort to spend public funds in support of a provision within the health care law they’ve been told to despise.
The Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation and tea party groups have urged Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill, which was authored by GOP Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Michael Burgess of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Club for Growth said it would include this vote in its annual rating of members of Congress.
Brent Bozell, a tea party leader, dubbed the bill “CantorCare” in a news release Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers privately fretted that the bill would bolster Obamacare, which the GOP has long tried to dismantle.
Cantor, humiliated, was forced to pull the bill from the floor, realizing it would lose if brought up for a vote. His office insisted that the proposal would be brought back after the leadership had more time to educate its caucus, but there’s no indication of when that might happen.
Remember, Cantor and his allies didn’t really expect this to become law; they only hoped to use this as a political scheme that made House Republicans look better. In practice, it had the opposite of the intended effect, and divided the caucus instead of uniting it.
This was, as NBC’s First Read put it, “mundane posturing,” which should have been easy for the far-right lawmakers, but which ended up backfiring.