In other news, the US Senate failed to pass anything. This hardly seems like news given that they fail to get anything done nearly all the time. But the botched repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, is a special new level of failure.
Normal procedures are completely gone. There is no committee report and there is no estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Stuff is being whipped together in a few hours and thrown onto the floor.
The chaos is much more important than the bills themselves because it seems the Republican leadership, especially Sen McConnell (R-KY) must know better. That can only mean they aren’t even trying. So what, after all, are they doing?
Political theater has always been a part of American policy. It’s lately been joined by a wide range of theater pretending to be governing, especially security theater and regulatory theater. Much of what we see coming from Washington has been an attempt to look good for quite a long while. Appearance is far more important than substance.
What is happening in the Senate right now is, without question, some kind of theater. The flurry of activity, punctuated by the dramatic return of Sen McCain (R-AZ), has been stunning. The potential repeal of ACA has engaged those who stand to lose with rapt attention. It leads the news every night as one amendment after another is brought to the Senate floor.
It’s not worth the attention. It has less relevance to the daily lives of Americans than the musical Hamilton.
It’s difficult to say what is going on in the Senate right now largely because no one can possibly keep track of it. Various repeals and “skinny” bills are being developed in real time without even the slightest chance for anyone to read them. The normal committee structure, where legislation is supposed to be worked out in detail, has been completely bypassed. Because the CBO has no idea what is in the bills procedures demand they require a 60 vote supermajority to pass.
So far, Republicans have only come up with 45 for whatever they are throwing on the floor.
There is no doubt the Republican leadership knows better than this. Experienced legislators know first and foremost how to count, so they must know that in this chaos they are not going to get the votes they need. Far too many of them are up for re-election in 2018 to possibly vote in favor of something they haven’t actually seen which may strip health care from a large number of constituents. Add that to the ones with a few morals and this mess is obviously just for show.
The question is, “A show for whom?”
There is a chance that, like most political theater, it is their base which is supposed to be eagerly watching and buying the concession stand kool-aid. This seems unreasonable. For one thing, it’s unlikely that they are as plugged into the process as those who are firmly against ACA repeal. For another the ultimate failure of repeal is likely to look horrible no matter how it is spun. When your base wants a blood sport for entertainment, you better give them blood. A lot of song and dance isn’t gonna cut it.
At least Hamilton stars Broadway professionals. Junior Highs have put on better shows than the one in the Senate.
If it’s not for the base, like most theater, we have to ask who this is for. It’s certainly providing a good distraction for Democrats who still want a solid Russia investigation, and it has stopped the daily drip of bad news for the administration. Then again, the real show is going on with Special Prosecutor Mueller, so a diversion isn’t going to do much good. And there was a grilling, without oath, of Jared Kushner offered as a side-show during the big production.
The real audience may be the most easily distracted one of all, the Führer of one-forty. This may be for Trump.
In the middle of everything Trump did tweet out an announcement of a transgender ban in the service. It wasn’t even remotely thought out, so it was clearly his own distraction of a kind. The push-back from prominent Republicans, including very august, conservative, and fourth-in-line Sen Hatch (R-UT) was remarkable. It would have been easy to stay quiet and ignore it, but that also didn’t happen.
Is the Senate actually in a quiet rebellion, putting on a show to distract someone very different than the public? The short answer is always “maybe,” and we won’t know for a while. There can be no doubt that what is happening has nothing to do with reality. But if it distracts someone away from a brewing rebellion it may serve its own purpose.