(CNN)Lawmaking on Capitol Hill is often compared to sausage-making because the process can be grisly and gross and, at least for the idealists out there, enough to turn your stomach inside out.
Republicans are going all in before 2018 — whatever the cost
Let's start with why it gets so messy.
When lawmakers decide to go big, they need to stitch together the smaller bits to satisfy their colleagues. If a particular group, or faction, wants one thing, the sausage chefs often tie it to another -- something the first bloc might not want but are willing to swallow to assure their primary goal.
Deals get done, then bills get passed. Or they don't, and they don't. It all depends on legislators finding the right balance, and binding up the necessary votes. For Senate Republicans this year, the "yeas" have been tough to corral. They couldn't find the 50 required, a lower threshold created by some legislative jujitsu called "budget reconciliation," to unwind Obamacare despite months of trying.
Now they're at it again, same rules, attempting to pass a sweeping tax cut for corporations, the wealthy and parts of the middle class. Here's the catch: Because they are using the budget reconciliation process (again), the legislation cannot raise the long-term deficit.
It's for that reason, to say nothing of their past promises, that Senate Republicans are now putting on the menu a one-time-only seasonal special that links two difficult-to-swallow agenda items.
The tax cuts are the key ingredient. But those alone, at least in the Senate's calculation, aren't enough. To keep it from crumbling -- that is, to be sure the bill stays within the parameters of the budget rules -- they've added a money-saving repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate. Tied up into one, it looks to many Republicans in Washington like the dish for which they've so long hungered.
Now for the heartburn.
The garroting of Obamacare -- which could leave 13 million fewer people with health coverage, as a means of pushing through permanent corporate tax cuts (the individual cuts sunset) -- is a recipe for political disaster. Neither piece of this bill, when taken alone, is popular, but Republican leadership seems to have convinced rank-and-file members that they're better off feeding voters something, anything, than nothing at all.
In remarks last week, after a Republican wipeout on election night, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Democratic victories only confirmed his "reading of the current moment."
"If anything," he added, "this just puts more pressure on us to follow through."
That's one way to spin it. Exit polls from Virginia suggested otherwise. At the end of nearly a year spent elbows-deep in a national fight over Obamacare, nearly four in 10 voters there said health care was the issue that mattered most to them. And that bloc broke heavily for the Democrat, Ralph Northam, by a 77% to 23% spread. Democrats around the country found similar success by pledging to protect or expand the current law.
Knowing this -- and, again, looking at the polls -- suggests that Ryan's public assessment is either off-base or misleading. The fallout from the ongoing effort is going to be significant. Democrats will use it as a bludgeon. The campaign ads write themselves. Health coverage for a corporate tax cut? Yikes. (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already fund-raising off it.)
It's hard to imagine that the blowback isn't baked into Republican leadership's calculus. One-party control of Washington is hard to come by and all but impossible to sustain. If the GOP is indeed going to be washed out in a Trump-resistance-led wave next year, why (the cynical politico might ask) would they pass up a chance to do exactly what they've always wanted?
Given all that, this is probably the best way to make sense of the situation on Capitol Hill right now: The Republican majority, in need of a deal that 1) satisfies multiple voting blocs; 2) keeps with Senate rules and 3) delivers on long-held agenda items, is simply doing what needs to be done -- 2018 be damned.
The process might be off-putting, and the results -- whether or not the deals come together and the legislation moves -- could cost Republicans their majorities in Congress, but with the work nearly done, it's becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Republicans will pass up a bite of the sausage.