- The Latest: Trump says GOP health care law has ‘good chance’
- GOP health care bill short of votes before deadline
- How well does Jimmy Kimmel understand the GOP health-care bill?
- Trump: If GOP health care bill fails, repeal Obamacare now, replace later
- Vote tally: How each senator voted on GOP health care bill
WASHINGTON — Pat Toomey was a freshman senator from Pennsylvania who was still getting his feet wet when Republican leader Mitch McConnell tapped him to negotiate a deficit reduction plan aimed at averting steep across-the-board cuts. Negotiations failed.
In 2013, Mr. Toomey became the Republican voice on gun control, working out bipartisan deal that looked promising when it got to the Senate floor. It failed.
Once again, he is at the center of Washington’s most pressing issue of the day — health care reform. And again his efforts seem to be in deep trouble.
With all Democrats and two Republicans firmly opposed, the plan can’t afford to lose a single senator more, and leaders are frantically trying to whip up votes through individual and group meetings with the small group of undecided Republicans. The planned vote this week was canceled because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will be absent as he recovers from surgery.
A win would be everything Mr. Toomey has been working toward — restructuring entitlement programs, showing he can get the job done, setting the stage for pro-growth tax reform, and making good on the promise he has been making for seven years: that he would help repeal the Affordable Care Act.
A loss would be — in Mr. Toomey’s own words — a disaster.
To some Pennsylvania Democrats, it would be something else, too: another piece of evidence of the sophomore senator’s ineptness.
“He’s an ineffective lawmaker who can’t get the job done. Time and time again, he’s come up short on delivering,” said Mike Mikus, a political operative who managed the campaign of Katie McGinty, the Democratic candidate who came close to unseating Mr. Toomey last November.
Political scientists see something else in Mr. Toomey’s trio of near misses: courage.
The senator hasn’t steered away from the tough issues, noted Chris Borick of Muhlenberg College and Kristin Kanthak of the University of Pittsburgh in separate interviews.
“Health care, budget deals and gun control are among the most difficult policy arenas. He’s engaged in a number of pretty substantial policy issues, but nonetheless hasn’t been able to come out with what one might call a signature accomplishment,” Mr. Borick said.
Mr. Toomey isn’t one to expend his political capital on impossible tasks or to sponsor easy bills like bridge renamings. Rather, he seems to choose issues where he thinks he can make a difference, even if they’re difficult and even if they inspire boisterous protests outside his offices.
It’s brave of him to take on the tough issues, Mr. Borick said.
Even detractors give him that much, but only by way of a backhanded compliment.
“You could say it’s courageous to take the lead on trying to take health care away from so many people,” Mr. Mikus said. “But what about standing up for people? It would be nice for him to show some courage with that.”
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 22 million people would lose coverage under the plan, and that funding would fall by $772 billion, but Mr. Toomey says he doesn’t trust those numbers because CBO estimates have been wrong before.
And he says it’s wrong for Democrats to characterize the changes as program cuts. Rather, the plan decreases the rate of growth of the Medicaid and transfers a greater share of the cost to states while giving them more flexibility to decide what services are covered.
The flexibility could give states the ability to offer providers incentives for supplying lower-cost care, such as, for example, authorizing coverage of telemedicine so that physicians can be reimbursed for remote care of patients.
More than 70 million poor and disabled adults and children — including 700,000 in Pennsylvania — receive coverage through Medicaid.
Democrats including Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey say Mr. Toomey’s plan is underfunded and that it would force states to choose between covering, for instance, patients with disabilities and people with drug addiction. Mr. Toomey’s working group partially addressed that concern in the latest iteration of the GOP plan by providing additional funding for drug treatment, but Democrats say overall Medicaid funding still falls far short.
“Their solution is to throw more money at it. So if our mission is to bail out Medicaid, bail out the insurance companies on these failed exchanges, they’d probably go along with that,” Mr. Toomey said. “I’m not interested in perpetuating a failed system and just throwing more dollars at it. What have we accomplished then?”
No one will lose coverage — as long as governors find the money to pay for it, Mr. Toomey said.
That gives rise to the question of whether the crux of the plan does more than shift costs than to reduce them, which Mr. Toomey acknowledges is a “fair point.”
The GOP plan doesn’t fix everything, he said. It’s just a start.
“Nobody should ever characterize this bill as the final product,” he said. “But getting this signed into law would fundamentally change the facts on the ground in such a way that I think in the future some Democrats would be willing to work with us.”
He sees it as the first hurdle toward even more entitlement reform and tax restructuring. But that hurdle is proving to be Olympic height, and Mr. Toomey has been training for the race since 1999 when he was first elected to Congress.
“This is why I ran for the Senate, why I ran for the House back in 1998: to put our entitlement programs on a sustainable path so we don’t have a fiscal crisis looming, so we have pro-growth tax reform, so we can have the kind of prosperity that Americans deserve, and [so we can] create a regulatory environment that makes sense and doesn’t burden economic growth. These are the things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
Finally, all of that is within is reach.
“I’ve expended an awful lot of political time and energy and political capital. It’s really important to me and it’ll be extremely disappointing if we don’t get this done,” he said.
If the health care bill passes, Mr. Toomey stands to get a lot of credit. If it fails, the blame will fall on Republican candidates like him who over-promised on the campaign trail and under-delivered in office, Ms. Kanthak said.
“They beat this repeal-and-replace drum over and over again, and now they can’t do it. It’s hard, but then maybe they shouldn’t have promised it. Voters have every right to expect they can at least pass some kind of legislation,” she said.
The Republican caucus is so divided that it’s difficult to cobble together 51 votes for any piece of legislation, so bridge-builders like Mr. Toomey can’t entirely be blamed.
“There’s no consensus on anything, so can we critique Pat Toomey for not finding something that isn’t there? That might not be fair,” Mr. Borick said.
Said Ms. Kanthak: “It’s not like he’s messing up easy tasks, but he’s not getting the job done, so at some point you do have to question whether there is a better legislator out there who could fit the bill?”
Mr. McConnell, R-Ky., doesn’t seem to think so. He keeps counting on Mr. Toomey when there’s a tough problem.
“Sen. Toomey is a sensible, intelligent and positive leader within our conference who works to bring everyone together as we tackle the big issues facing our nation,” Mr. McConnell said in a written statement. “Whether it’s protecting Americans from the failures of Obamacare or reforming our broken tax code, I can always count on him for wise counsel and productive policy proposals.”
It would be tough to find a better positioned stalwart for the job. Mr. Toomey has one foot in the Tea Party and another in the moderate camp. He comes from a diverse state with competing interests. He was chairman of Club for Growth, an advocacy group that has steered campaign dollars to the very senators whose support he needs now. He was elected chairman of the conservative Republican Steering Committee. He gets along well with Republican colleagues like Susan Collins of Maine, who is considered more liberal than even some Democrats in the Senate. And he’s got 5½ years before he has to face voters again.
With those bona fides, with his experience and with his party controlling everything in Washington, legislative successes ought to be more frequent for Mr. Toomey, political scientists said. Republican voters have a right to expect more from candidates who are in the majority and whom they elected on promises of swift change.
“The stage is set for him and his fellow Republicans to move things forward. It’s hard to make excuses when you control everything, and [Mr. Toomey is] a significant player in the party that controls the power,” Mr. Borick said. “There’s an opportunity for him to establish himself as a respected figure within Republican figures and a key legislator in Washington.”
That’s difficult when he’s faced with bridging ever-widening divisions in his own party.
“I’ve been a little bit surprised at the reluctance on the part of some to allow a freer consumer-driven marketplace for health care products,” Mr. Toomey said. “I kind of would have thought that was a more universally agreed upon premise for Republican senators, and I’m surprised a little bit by some reluctance.”
If Mr. Toomey’s can’t get the job done, it’s not because his politicking is flawed but because his policies are, Mr. Mikus said.
“For his agenda, he’s doing everything he can, so I can’t fault his tactics, but what I can fault is the policy goals he’s trying to achieve,” he said. “His priorities are wrong and that’s why he’s ineffective. It’s hard to cobble a majority together when you want to take health care from people.”
Mr. Toomey will tell you that his approach doesn’t deprive anyone of health care and doesn’t cut spending at all. Rather, it stabilizes insurance markets, protects an entitlement program from collapse, spends responsibly and gives governors flexibility to make the best choices for each state’s population.
“I’m really focusing on that,” he said, declining to discuss what might happen if there’s no consensus even as Mr. McConnell has looked ahead and suggested bolstering individual insurance markets if repeal is unattainable.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about Plan B because I want to get Plan A done,” Mr. Toomey said. “We’ve made a commitment to the American people [to repeal Obamacare], and I’m really focusing on that. I don’t want to start contemplating what to do if that fails.”
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: [email protected]; 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.
For Pat Toomey, now comes the hard part: Getting GOP health care bill passed have 1828 words, post on www.post-gazette.com at 2017-07-17 10:12:35. This is cached page on USA Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.