With the GOP’s repeal-and-replace bill hanging in the balance, Trump and McConnell attempted to entice moderate GOP holdouts with the promise of an additional $45 billion in spending to counter the opioid crisis.
One administration source told Axios that the game plan is to try to “bribe” moderates with this extra spending while trying to win over conservatives with longer-term reforms.
Republican leaders were so convinced that their bribe would work that House Speaker Paul Ryan bragged to reporters that the GOP is “perfectly on time with our schedule” and as soon as the Senate gets a bill passed, “we will move “for a quick approval.”
But their “bribing” scheme failed spectacularly after the CBO report came to light.
A lobbyist close to Senate Republicans said the CBO score was a devastating blow to McConnell.
“It knocked the wind out of all the sails,” said a GOP aide.
The reason is perfectly captured in a behind-the-scenes anecdote that took place among Republican senators when they learned about the Congressional Budget Office score of the Senate bill, which projected that over 22 million fewer people would be covered by Medicaid due to its enormous cuts to the program. This level of cruelty was too much to accept even for some Republicans.
This money is basically chump change, relative to the massive coverage loss the bill would produce, and if moderates were going to remain true to their own previous criticisms of that coverage loss, they would not allow themselves to be “bribed” by it.
Additionally, the bill’s curtailing of Medicaid spending — including a $772 billion cut over the next decade — caused a lingering sense of heartburn for center-right Republicans.
This suggests that to some degree they remain in the same place as the senators who were supposedly surprised by the CBO score: They are still hoping to find some magical escape hatch from a political and moral predicament that is inextricably linked to the unmovable fact that the GOP healthcare bill is simply a tax cut for the rich.