Mitch McConnell has a problem entirely of his own making. The Senate majority leader promised a vote on Obamacare “stability” legislation to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Collins wants a vote on the package as a Senate floor amendment to the omnibus appropriations legislation (that is, if and when congressional leaders emerge from their smoke-filled rooms and actually release an omnibus package for Congress to vote on).
Except that not six weeks ago, McConnell literally let the federal government shut down rather than grant his fellow Kentuckian Sen. Rand Paul a floor vote on his amendment to appropriations legislation.
Does McConnell anger Collins, by refusing her a vote Collins believes she is due? Or does McConnell anger conservatives, by granting the moderate Collins a vote after Republican leaders castigated Paul for having the temerity to ask for a vote on his amendment last month?
It’s a fun choice McConnell gets to make—and he’s running out of time to do it.
Lest anyone forget what transpired a few short weeks ago, Paul asked for a clean vote on his amendment to budget and spending legislation, to preserve strict spending caps enacted as part of the Budget Control Act. (When it passed in 2011, McConnell said the Budget Control Act spending caps would slow down the “big government freight train”—a freight train that he now apparently wants to put into hyperdrive.)
McConnell and the Senate leadership refused to give Paul an up-or-down vote on his amendment. As Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) put it, “Why reward bad behavior?” Because under Senate rules Paul could speak for an extended period of time, and because Senate leadership did not allow enough time for a full floor debate on the legislation—apparently thinking it appropriate for the Senate to consider and pass in mere hours a 652-page bill allocating trillions of dollars—the federal government briefly shut down.
To put it another way: McConnell said repeatedly—including as recently as December—that “We will not be shutting down the government.” But in February, McConnell preferred to violate his promise, and shut down the federal government, rather than give Paul an up-or-down vote on his amendment.
Susan Collins’ Precious Bailout
Enter Collins, who along with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has been pushing for a bailout of Obamacare insurers for months now. Collins claims she has a commitment from McConnell to support an insurer “stability” package. Alexander said he would demand a vote, asking for senators “to be accountable” for their positions on the issue, because he thinks bailing out Obamacare will lower premiums for 2019 (it won’t).
However, as I noted just last week, Collins has moved the goalposts on the bailout package significantly. Whereas she initially requested “only” $5 billion in reinsurance funds, according to her December colloquy with McConnell, the new bill she and Alexander introduced this week contains more than $30 billion in spending on reinsurance—a sixfold increase. Because Collins has demonstrably walked away from her side of whatever bargain McConnell made with her, Senate leadership should have no qualms about doing the same.
However, the McConnell office appears inclined to give Collins her way, with multiple reports saying that McConnell was “open” to such an amendment vote to the appropriations bill. Compare that to the reactions Paul received from his colleagues last month, when he wanted an amendment vote to an appropriations bill. Congressmen called it an “utterly pointless” “stunt” that “doesn’t make any d-mn sense.” One unnamed Senate Republican aide called it “the stupidest thing to happen to Congress in three weeks….This is even stupider than the kid who didn’t recognize Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl.”
Mind you, most conservatives who believe in an open floor amendment process would argue that Collins should get a vote on an Obamacare stabilization package if she wants one, just like Paul should have received a vote on his amendment. But if McConnell went to such absurd lengths—literally shutting down the federal government—to deny Paul an amendment vote last month, then he has no business making exceptions to his own rule, particularly for someone who keeps asking for more and more in a “stability” package.
Conservatives should watch with intense interest how the Senate floor debate plays out. If McConnell moves heaven and earth to get Collins a vote on her precious bailout, after moving heaven and earth to deny Paul a vote on retaining spending caps that McConnell himself used to support, they should neither quickly forgive, nor easily forget, the double standards created by Senate leadership.