WASHINGTON — Perhaps the only Hollywood director capable of creating a scenario at all close to what we saw unfold at the crack of dawn Friday morning is Aaron Sorkin. The fall of an hours-old bill, which came at the hands of all forty-eight Democrats, and three unlikely Republicans, was nothing short of a true Cinderella Story. As the peak battle over health care contained everything from drama to last-minute heroism from a surprising, unlikely source, it felt less like reality, and more like an episode of the fictional Sorkin-created “West Wing.”
The Health Care Freedom Act, a bill brought to the floor at 10:02 pm by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was the latest effort on behalf of members of the Grand Old Party to repeal the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010. After years of promising the party base the “failing” system of care would be repealed and replaced, McConnell put forth the HCFA, which had earlier been dubbed the Skinny Repeal Bill. The guts of the bill, for many about to vote on its fate, were still unknown. Barely given the time and debate the Skinny Bill needed, the ACA’s future looked increasingly bleak.
As the HCFA was only a partial repeal, it still did extensive, and likely irreparable damage. The Congressional Budget Office — a nonpartisan agency which provides both budget and economic information to Congress — scored the bill mere minutes before the vote; it found that McConnell’s bill would leave 16 million more Americans uninsured by 2026, would decrease the projected federal deficit by $142 billion in the same amount of time and would increase insurance premiums by 20%. While also including provisions to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, repeal both the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates, and its medical-device tax, McConnell’s third attempt in as many days to pass a repeal bill seemed to be the charm, as frustration from the right grew with every failed vote.
With the Senate set to vote at midnight, Vice President Mike Pence arrived shortly after 11:30, as he would represent the tie-breaking vote. Now after midnight on the eastern seaboard, a motion to send the bill to another Senate Committee for further debate failed. The fate of the nation now came in to question. The summation of efforts over a period of seven years for the Republican Party…would be delayed just awhile longer.
Knowing it was likely he didn’t have the fifty-one vote majority needed to pass the bill, McConnell and his fellow Republican colleagues spent the next hour attempting to sway three key members of the GOP: Alaska Senator Murkowski, Arizona Senator McCain and Maine Senator Collins.
For much of the hour-and-change the two parties spent mingling amongst themselves, Vice President Pence and Senator McCain could be seen off to the side having an intensely animated conversation. Once Pence left the chamber, McCain passed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and high-fived the top-ranking Democrat.
When the time came for most important vote in this decade, the ‘ayes’ and ‘nos’ were neck-and-neck. Finally, John McCain, who was diagnosed with cancer not a week-and-a-half earlier, walked onto the Senate Floor, and, in front of Senator McConnell, put his hand out and gave a thumbs-down. Amid gasps and cheers from those on the left realizing what had just happened, the culmination of efforts over a seven year period went up in flames quite literally in Mitch McConnell’s face.
It was over. Republicans failed. Again. The Affordable Care Act lived on.
Senators Collins, Murkowski and McCain, for crossing party lines and voting with the interests of a nation in mind, saved President Obama’s signature piece of legislation from partial repeal, as well as the lives of countless Americans who’d fall victim to lack of coverage.
Expectations for Thursday’s vote were set incredibly high on weakening the health care system, but it was instead the Republican Party that left debilitated that night. Saving the Affordable Care Act in the most 2017 way possible, two courageous women facing unprecedented pressure from their male colleagues, and American hero John McCain revitalized the political activism of a country that’s currently caught in its own spider web of division.
Though Aaron Sorkin’s television shows were often described as a liberal’s grandiose delusions, it may prove to be an intelligent move down the road for today’s Republican Party to invest in the lessons behind the small screen successes: one’s compass should be guided by one’s own morality and not political ideology.