The act of creating legislation is often ugly, but it rarely presents the drama that was on display late Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday as Republicans attempted to follow through on their threat to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It provided more tension, pathos, and reversals than any film playing this summer.
Early in the evening, Republicans introduced multiple variants and amendments. Some of these, like a cynically-offered version of a single-payer “Medicare for all” plan, were presented purely for the purpose of embarrassing Democrats. Others, like an amendment permanently doing in the tax on the kind of “Cadillac” insurance plans often provided to executives, sailed through on party line votes in an apparent preview of the main event to come.
As the evening stretched on, Democrats were increasingly frustrated that the bill that was to be voted on still had not been made available. And from the Republicans that rose to speak, it was impossible to discern even a hint of what could be in that bill. Republicans repeated—over and over and over—a set of talking points. Remember when President Obama promised you could keep your doctor? Remember … Nothing from the new bill. Meanwhile, Democrats stood and delivered increasingly impassioned pleas to simply see what was coming.
Finally, at 10 PM, Republicans handed over their “Skinny Repeal” bill. It was no more than eight pages of legislation, drafted over a not-so-long lunch. Two of those pages were devoted to blocking access to Planned Parenthood. Among the rest were provisions that not only did in the individual mandate, but stripped the responsibility of businesses of any size to provide health care to workers. As Democrats tried to process this bill, Republican Senator Mike Enzi was awarded the final hour of “debate” before the vote.
In a display of infuriating hubris and disdain both both his colleagues and the people whose lives were on the line, Enzi used that time not to discuss the bill, but to conduct a kind of mini-filibuster in which he droned on, and on, mixing lies about the ACA with discourses on the joys of Segways and asides about Bill Clinton. Multiple Democrats rose during Enzi’s credulity-straining ramble, but Enzi refused to yield the floor. Not for questions about the bill. Not for points of order. Not for anything. While Enzi talked, Mike Pence entered the Senate and Republican leadership gathered and grinned. Enzi’s talk seemed to be purposely designed to put a heavy bootheel on Democrats throats and grind in the fact that Republicans had this thing in the bag. Enzi openly declared that his purpose was to simply use up the the remaining time even if it passed “in silence.”
Finally, Enzi’s fat middle finger to America ended and Mitch McConnell moved the Senate immediately into the closing act. Democrats begged for just five more minutes to discuss the bill and, incredibly, Republican Whip John Cornyn objected. After a bit of back and forth, Ron Wyden and Chuck Schumer split the final few minutes in a desperate appeal to stop the bill that would drive through the healthcare system leaving nothing but disaster in its wake. As the final votes began, the outcome seemed the very definition of a foregone conclusion.