On Tuesday evening, minds were blown in Washington, DC, and the Richmond, VA, suburbs when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Republican primary race to a virtually unknown challenger from the right, college Professor David Brat. Cantor on Wednesday announced that he will complete his term in Congress, but will step down as majority leader effective July 31. Many have speculated why Cantor lost and point to the rise of the tea party’s influence within the GOP. We personally think the stunning loss had more to do with the fact that Cantor was in a DC meeting with lobbyists (including NAHU’s own John Greene) about other congressional races on the morning of his defeat, rather than knocking on doors and getting out the vote in his own district. Throw some crossover Democratic votes against him in the state’s open primary and some really horrific internal polling on top of that and you get a historic loss.
In any case, who are we to say why? What we would rather opine on is what Cantor’s loss will mean for the legislative agenda ahead. In short, we think it means that very, very few (if any) ACA-related fix or replace bills will advance between now and Election Day in November. And we think that neither party will be pushing for them. Here’s why: no one wants to force anyone running for election to take any tough votes or hold any votes that may give an opponent an advantage and votes on health-reform related matters are too unpredictable.
With Cantor’s defeat, one thing that is definitely off the table is a House vote on a health reform replacement package this summer. Such a vote was already unlikely—even though there are a few bills out there, the GOP caucus hasn’t ever been able to agree on a comprehensive replacement package to advance. But within the GOP leadership, the only person pushing to have a vote at all was Cantor. The other ranking members in the House, given the general disagreement in the party about what a replacement package should look like, have instead advocated for being non-specific and just promoting private health reform principles, so as to not give Democrats (and possibly dissenting Republicans) anything too detailed to pick apart.
The Republican Study Committee, which represents the most conservative wing of the party in the House, has pushed for a vote on its proposal, which is co-authored by Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) who is running for majority whip. But the Republican Study Committee plan doesn’t have the 218 votes needed for passage, in large part because their bill could really hurt the private employer-based system of providing health insurance benefits. Speaker Boehner has no incentive to put any bills on the floor that won’t win handily between now and November.
Cantor’s loss doesn’t just mean that the House won’t be holding votes. We’ve also seen newfound resistance by Democrats over in the Senate to move anything that even hints of health reform forward. Earlier this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s scheduled markup on Thursday of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill was postponed partly over concerns about amendments related to the ACA that Republicans sought to offer. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said that the bill could be subsumed into an omnibus package after the election instead. Harkin denied that the vote was postponed because vulnerable Democrats feared they would be forced to go on record voting on tough amendments, which could hurt their chances in November, but we thought we saw his nose growing a bit while he said it. Bottom line, don’t expect much legislating this summer. But the lame duck session in November might be a busy one!