The window of opportunity to stop the GOP health plan is closing

Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

When the Republican's far-right health care plan passed the House last month, several lawmakers who voted in the majority conceded they did so grudgingly. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) gave an especially memorable quote to the Washington Post.

"Is this bill good? No, I don't like it," Diaz-Balart said. But he suggested that voting for the bill would allow him to be part of future negotiations: "So my decision was, how do I stay involved?"

Even at the time, this seemed more like wishful thinking than a credible legislative strategy. Diaz-Balart voted for a bill he admittedly didn't like, and in the weeks that have followed, there's no evidence that he's been "involved" in shaping his party's approach in any meaningful way.

That said, the Miami Republican probably wasn't the only one thinking along these lines. Policymakers, the argument goes, should just keep the process moving forward, incrementally making changes along the way, giving various players an opportunity to tweak, change, and hopefully improve the legislation before it's too late.

For opponents of the GOP plan, this offers related opportunities: at every choke point, health care advocates have a chance to stop the far-right package from advancing.

What became clear yesterday, however, is that everyone's window of opportunity is closing in ways that aren't fully appreciated.

Senate Republicans, after several weeks of secrecy, unveiled their health care overhaul yesterday. They'll get a score from the Congressional Budget Office early next week and then hold a vote a couple of days later. If it passes, the bill will head to the House.

Some who've followed the debate have hoped there'd be several additional rounds of deliberations, and at each point, people who care about the health care system would be able to register their concerns, twist some arms, and perhaps sway some members. The House vote was one such opportunity; the Senate vote will be another; a bicameral conference committee to negotiate the competing versions would be another; a vote on the conference committee's final version would be another.

But that's not what's going to happen. A House Republican told a reporter from The Hill last yesterday that if the Senate bill passes next week, the House will simply pass that version "as is," sending it on to Donald Trump for a presidential signature. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who almost single-handedly rescued his party's far-right health care initiative, confirmed to a Washington Examiner reporter that there would be no conference committee if the bill clears the Senate.

This is no small detail. We're looking at a landscape in which the Senate will vote next week, and if it passes, House Republicans will almost certainly act quickly to rubber-stamp that legislation -- at which point, it's game over.

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, the next six days will dictate the health security for tens of millions of Americans. If the Republican plan isn't stopped over the next week, it won't be stopped at all.