President Donald Trump and his party have just given themselves another self-inflicted wound. And it deepens doubt surrounding their ability to get healthy on tax reform.
The Senate's late-July rejection of the initial push to repeal and replace Obamacare gave Republicans a chance to cut their losses. Congress could have begun a limited bipartisan effort to stabilize insurance marketplaces – which have grown in popularity during this year's repeal battle — while the GOP moved on to the tax debate that unites the party more.
That, in fact, was the party's initial plan. But then Senate leaders succumbed to pressure from their conservative base to target Obamacare one more time before special rules barring a Democratic filibuster expire on Sept. 30.
It was a long shot from the start. One objection from Republican dissidents stemmed from the rush to enact reforms reordering a large chunk of the American economy; the latest proposal this week came up for consideration even more rapidly.
Moreover, the plan sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., suffers the same problems that impeded earlier GOP proposals — and more.
Not only would it have eroded patient protections and left tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, its formula for redistributing federal spending would have required a large bloc of Republican senators to vote "yes" knowing their states would receive less money than under current law.
Sen. John McCain's announced opposition, combined with other GOP holdouts, means that almost certainly won't happen. Which represents a two-pronged setback for the GOP.
First, raising hopes of Obamacare's fiercest opponents and then dashing them again will deepen internal Republican fissures. Trump spent part of his summer ripping Congressional Republicans for failing to deliver; in this week's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59 percent of Republican voters expressed dissatisfaction with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.