Mitch McConnell just handed Democrats a 'major political gift'

  • Mitch McConnell is trying to hurry the Obamacare replacement process through and keep the bill negotiations secret.
  • That's helping to galvanize Democrat opposition and giving conservative holdouts more power.
  • Republicans have to decide whether this is all worth risking the kind of election losses Democrats suffered over Obamacare in 2010 and 2014.

Usually, we describe the people behind a financial scam as either "pulling a fast one," or "pulling the wool over our eyes." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing both right now with his highly secretive and expedited Obamacare replacement bill process. And no, this isn't going to be one of those cases where doing those sneaky things is likely to produce a good result.

So who's going to stop this process? From what we've seen so far, it looks like an odd coalition of the Senate's leading liberals and conservatives.

Who says there's no bipartisan cooperation in Congress?!?

Those leading liberals in the Senate, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are at the head of a predictable charge on the Democratic side of the aisle against the repeal process. But with news of more Obamacare insurers jacking up premiums or leaving ACA exchanges altogether, they're wisely focusing on McConnell's secrecy and haste as opposed to defending the existing health-care law. Sanders took the Senate floor Monday night and made his most impassioned speech yet against the GOP replacement bill process, challenging his colleagues' secrecy with a "what are you afraid of?" challenge.

In that sense, the McConnell process has already handed the Democrats a major political gift as they can justifiably keep the pressure on the Republicans instead of being forced to explain why Obamacare has started to show major cracks just three years after it's full implementation in 2014.

Conservatives have been quieter so far, but not completely silent. Kentucky Senator and former presidential candidate Rand Paul recently renewed his criticism of the GOP bill as being just another entitlement program. Utah Senator Mike Lee is making similar complaints. And now House conservatives have sent McConnell a list of 15 "must haves" in the Senate bill for them to agree to go along with the measure when it goes before the full Congress. Many of those demands, including defunding Planned Parenthood, are non-starters for a lot of more moderate Republicans.

"Democrats are in full protest mode against the bill while the conservatives in Senate are still holding out for more changes. The Democrats are thus making every one of those Senate Republican holdouts more important than ever. Teamwork!"

One reason conservatives are not yet in full revolt mode is because leading Senate conservative Ted Cruz is one of the 12 Republicans involved in the closed door negotiations. We know that Senator Cruz has been pushing for robustly funded risk pools to cover people with pre-existing conditions as opposed to making insurance companies cover them. And Cruz is at least publicly saying he's still willing to compromise.

Of course, Senate conservatives don't need to muster big numbers to kill this bill. With just 52 seats in the Senate, the Republicans can only mathematically afford to lose two of their party members' votes to get the measure passed with Vice President Mike Pence's potential tie-breaking vote.

Cruz has defended the secrecy of the bill negotiations, but he's not backing McConnell's quick push to pass the bill this month. Cruz says he's willing to keep negotiating for as long as it takes to make a good deal.

Cruz's comments provide the latest traction for those who want Congress to cancel or postpone its August recess in order to replace Obamacare with a better bill. Georgia Senator David Perdue even says a majority of his fellow Republicans are probably in favor of at least delaying or cutting the length of the recess.

Oh, and one more thing: Cruz is up for re-election next year and he has to decide along with other Republicans whether being seen as being slow on fixing Obamacare is a better political position than being seen as rushing and hiding their way to passing a bill that's just as bad or worse than Obamacare in the first place. After a public backlash against Obamacare led to massive Democrat losses in the 2010 and 2014 Congressional elections, it seems like a decent bet they'll take the former option over the latter.

All of this is effectively accomplishing the same thing. The Democrats are in full protest mode against the bill while the conservatives in Senate are still holding out for more changes. The Democrats are thus making every one of those Senate Republican holdouts more important than ever. Teamwork!

That brings us to President Donald Trump, who continues to cheer for a new bill but never gets specific about its details. He did reportedly call the House Obamacare replacement "too mean" earlier this month, but there's no solid evidence that's forced any changes in those secret negotiations. As we get close to the 2018 elections and the scrutiny in the news media gets even sharper, it's less likely that vague cajoling from the White House will be very effective.

Of course, the bigger and more pervasive problem here is that the political class simply cannot get this health care thing right because... it's the political class. It's made up of people from both parties in elected positions, government jobs, or highly-paid lobbying roles who will never really have to worry about paying for their health care. And political class concerns will always be more about pleasing lobbyists and connected industries than helping ordinary voters face their own economic pressures.

Democrats and Republicans are simply running out of places to hide from a health insurance policy that's failing and is proving harder to fix or replace than the political rhetoric from both parties promised. Senator McConnell's efforts to overcome this by hurrying and covering up the process are creating more new problems, not less. And that's why this time, it looks like the political class is going to fail.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the Senator from Georgia's first name. He is David Perdue. Additionally, the article misstated the number of holdout senators needed to kill the health-care bill. That number is two, not three.