Republicans can't defend their health care bill on the merits

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)
President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a warning to his Republican colleagues today, arguing that GOP lawmakers must support the party's health care plan because Republicans made a "commitment" to voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.He didn't talk about the bill's merits, or what he believes it would do to help Americans, but rather, McConnell's focus was on the political calculus. It's a classic example of a logical fallacy:1. We have to do something.2. This bill is something.3. We therefore have to pass this bill.Similarly, Donald Trump was in Louisville last night, headlining a campaign-style rally, where he touted his party's health care bill, again without actually describing any of its effects or purported benefits. Politico reported that the president is "increasingly talking about health care like the vegetables of his agenda -- the thing he must begrudgingly finish in order to get to what he really wants: tax cuts, trade deals and infrastructure."NBC News reported that Trump took a similar message to congressional Republicans this morning on Capitol Hill.

President Donald Trump told House Republicans Tuesday that they could lose re-election in the 2018 midterms if they vote against the GOP health care bill later this week that would undo much of Obamacare.Trying to help wrangle enough votes for passage, Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet privately with Republican lawmakers and said they are putting the GOP majority at risk with opposition to the bill, pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan.

We can certainly have a credible debate about Trump's assessment. In his mind, if the American Health Care Act goes down, Republican incumbents will suffer at the ballot box next year. As I see it, the risk is far greater for GOP members who vote for a wildly unpopular bill that's likely to die in the Senate anyway.But the point here is that the argument itself is detached from what really matters: whether this legislation is a worthwhile policy prescription.I suppose this is an antiquated, perhaps even naive, way of looking at legislation, but Republicans have effectively abandoned the pretense that the merits of their ideas are important. Note that GOP leaders aren't even bothering to say anything like, "We have to pass this bill because of the wonderful results it will produce for American families."Instead the arguments are explicitly political/electoral: Republicans have to pass this so that they can pass tax cuts; they have to pass this to avoid looking bad; they have to pass this to save face; they have to pass this to honor amorphous "commitments" made on the campaign trail.It is, in other words, a post-policy posture, treating the substance of an idea as an afterthought, not even making GOP leaders' list of priorities.Postscript: After his remarks this morning, Trump didn't even bother to take questions from his ostensible allies -- probably because, by all appearances, he has no idea what's in the legislation or what it does.