House GOP Frustrated by Senate's Obamacare Failure

House GOP Frustrated by Senate's Obamacare Failure
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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House Republicans went to bed Thursday night believing their Obamacare repeal effort was still alive, and expecting to conference with the Senate to seek consensus on their key legislative item.

They awoke Friday morning to the news that their Senate counterparts had failed.

“A lot of us here in the House were gearing up again to do the hard work and try to make the mechanics and the dollars and the demographics work, and we wake up the next morning and the rug has been pulled out again by the Senate,” said Rep. David Schweikert.

“I think the Senate needs to grow up and understand that they’re part of the governing majority too,” he added.

It was a frustrating position for House Republicans. They had struggled for months to narrowly pass Obamacare repeal legislation, and eventually succeeded under the expectation that the Senate would improve, and then pass, their own measure. The failure, seven months into the Congress and on the eve of the House departing for the annual August recess, was a boiling point for many lawmakers, who consider their agenda and campaign promises to be in peril, and who question whether failures in the upper chamber will cost them politically.

Rep. Brian Mast, a military veteran and freshman lawmaker from Florida, said he spoke to his colleagues during the conference’s weekly meeting Friday morning about courage, grit and determination.

“Right now, I think the Senate showed that they don’t have the courage that they need, and they don’t have the grit and determination, and they’re absolutely handicapped,” he said.

Despite that frustration, the overall mood among House Republicans Friday morning was surprisingly jovial. At the meeting, Speaker Paul Ryan played “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the ballad about a famed sinking ship, an obvious allusion to the Senate health care efforts. Rep. Bruce Poliquin played clips from this year’s Super Bowl showing the Atlanta Falcons staking out an enormous lead only to lose in a dramatic comeback by the New England Patriots. The purpose of the analogy, according to lawmakers, was that Republicans are the Patriots.

Ryan tried to bolster his colleagues at the meeting, pointing out things they had accomplished such as health care and the repeal of Dodd-Frank financial regulations that had languished in the Senate. He encouraged them to take that message home to voters over August. Some lawmakers said that despite the upper chamber’s failure on Obamacare, House members would be able to highlight their own accomplishments over the recess. Others said the idea of progress from the GOP Congress will be a tougher sell.

“We have not delivered, so they should be frustrated,” Rep. Mark Walker said of voters. “I know I’ve got 35 or 40 things we’re supposed to go back home and message and talk about, and I will. And yet at the same time, I’m not going to pretend that it’s pie in the sky and that we’ve done our work, that we’ve done our job.”

The tasks that await Republicans when they return in September will be daunting. The nascent effort to reform the tax code is likely to be the key legislative effort for the remainder of 2017. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a joint release with the administration Thursday outlining their principles for that effort. But lawmakers are attempting to use the same one-party strategy on tax reform that they employed for health care, and many acknowledge that it will be a difficult path forward. Ryan, in a statement Friday morning, encouraged the Senate to continue to seek consensus on health care, but said House members could use August to “make the case for historic tax reform that we intend to pursue in the fall.”

In order to get to tax reform, Republicans will have to agree to pass a budget in September -- they never put one on the floor this month because it lacked sufficient support from too many GOP members. They will also only have three legislative weeks in September to etch out a plan to fund the government before the end of the month; the need to raise the debt limit also remains unresolved.

Still, as they prepared to depart Washington for five weeks, some House Republicans preached the notion of a comeback, insisting that it was still possible to revive their flagging agenda.

“The U.S. Navy was devastated at Pearl Harbor. But three years later the Japanese surrendered to us. Washington lost more battles than he won, but we won our independence. The Alamo fell, yet Texas won its independence,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk. “The history books of America are marked by us rebounding from defeat and turning it into victory.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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