GOP repeating Democrats’ Obamacare mistakes. Rushing tax reform wins the battle but loses the war

  • Senator Marco Rubio's last minute demands for changes in the tax bill could inspire other GOP senators to make requests.
  • This is just the latest reason why the Republicans need to rush the bill to a vote.
  • But this is just the kind of rush and compromise process that poisoned the Obamacare bill in the minds of so many voters.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, speaks with reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, speaks with reporters at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Senator Marco Rubio's announcement that he opposed the GOP tax reform bill worked to perfection. In the span of less than 24 hours, his "no" vote has now reportedly gone back to a "yes" after he apparently got the added child tax credit he wanted.

But this Rubio incident highlights a particular need for the Republicans:

The need for speed.

That is, they need to rush more than ever to pass the tax reform bill, even if winning now means they end up losing the overall political war.

Republicans already have a slim 52-48 voting majority in the Senate to work with. Republican Senator Bob Corker is a likely "no" vote. That means the GOP can spare just one more vote from its ranks and still pass the bill with Vice President Mike Pence's deciding vote.

Now they have an added challenge. Passing the bill without a prominent Senator like Rubio would have looked bad. Giving in to Rubio, who has the luxury of not being up for re-election until 2022, could set off a chain reaction among other GOP senators who suddenly decide there's just one more thing they want added or changed before they can vote for the bill.

The temptation to make a stand like Rubio's is easy to understand. It's not just about getting some kind of change in the bill that helps any one senator's home state. This is about political marketing. One can just imagine the political ad now that could run during that senator's next re-election campaign or even a run for the White House.

It would likely go something like this:

"The 2017 tax reform bill wasn't going to include vital programs to help middle class Americans. But that's when Senator X stood up to members of his/her own party and demanded they put it back in the bill. That's the kind of independence and courage we need in Washington."

So how can the Republicans avoid setting off a stampede of other senators making new demands?

It's all in how fast they go.

The GOP congressional leadership now needs to get this bill ready for a vote on the earlier side of next week.

That will put extreme pressure and scrutiny on any other senator popping up with a new objection in the final hour. It's one thing to ask for changes several days before a scheduled vote. But it's something else entirely to do that the day of a vote when all of Capitol Hill is clamoring to get home for Christmas.

So, tax reform passes. Battle won.

But here's where the GOP could lose the war.

All this rushing and compromising is reminiscent of the way the Democrats got Obamacare to the finish line. That race to passage included marathon efforts to win over holdout Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak's vote and the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback" deal with then-Senator Ben Nelson from Nebraska. These hastily-demanded deals kept the passage of the ACA in doubt until the final minutes before the votes in 2010. It was also a case of some ugly-looking sausage making right in front of the voters' eyes.

So now the Republicans are simply following the dangerous path the Democrats laid out seven years ago. This kind of rushed legislation that affects so many millions of Americans just adds to the distrust of Washington. In its rush to be seen as effective, the GOP seriously risks undermining itself completely.

You don't have to look any further than the 2010 midterm election results to see how the nation's voters reacted to the Obamacare bill.The Democrats were routed from of their large majority in the House and they almost lost control of the Senate as well. A good argument can be made that the voter anger that produced that sweeping election result was more about the way Obamacare was passed than what was actually in the bill.

Of course, the GOP could have achieved a much more politically safe level of transparency and speed by sticking to true conservative principles. But the Republicans never even considered simply cutting taxes and spending across the board in a clean and consistent fashion.

There's a good chance the Republicans will face the same voter anger in the 2018 midterms over this legislative rush job that the Democrats faced in 2010. That's apparently the chance they're willing to take.

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

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