Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pulling a rabbit out of a hat by redefining what constitutes a rabbit and what constitutes a hat.
Everyone assumed that the procedural motion to vote and bring an end to the health care debate was simply a precursor to passing the final bill. But it was McConnell's genius to realize that it is a separate vote with its own momentum and its own context.
He realized that while the Republican senators could not agree on a solution, they all agreed that one was needed. So he floated three choices in order to get the senators to vote to close debate and vote on something:
1. The full monty — a full repeal and replace bill.
2. A half monty — just repeal.
3. A bland monty — just repeal the mandate that people have to buy insurance and some of the tax hikes.
With such a broad array of choices, every Republican could find something he could vote for and use that to justify his vote to close debate.
Once the closure motion passes, then the real bargaining will begin. Why will it succeed now?
McConnell is betting, perhaps wisely, that the momentum of the closure vote will carry over and that, at least, the mandate bill (Option 3) will pass.
President Trump and the GOP leaders rightly reckon that the requirement is to pass something and repeal some of Obamacare. Passing anything will give Trump momentum and a reprieve and will give Republicans something to cheer about.
Back in the Obama administrations days, Republicans passed a bill stripping the mandates and leaving the rest of the Obamacare in tact. He killed it with a veto threat, but if it was good enough for the Republicans back then, it's good enough now.
Without the mandate, Obamacare cannot survive. People will not pay its outrageous premiums unless they have to do so. Some 6.5 million taxpayers paid a fine last year — totaling $3 billion — for failing to have health coverage. The average fine was $470. Once the mandate is lifted, those folks are not going to buy insurance and many who have knuckled under plans they don't want will flock away.
To save the insurance industry, it will then be essential to permit the sale of more limited plans to bring down prices.
President Obama always said that if you abandoned the mandate, the whole structure would fall apart. He was and is right.
So let's do it!