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Shark Week, Day 5: Why the Unseen Is So Scary

July 28, 2017, 6:06 PM UTC

Fins. Circling. Water.

Shark fin
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Okay, whose heart rate just went up?

There are few more universally terrifying images, it seems, than the sight of a dorsal fin (or worse, multiple fins) cutting a circle in the rolling surface of saltwater. The fin glides leisurely at first; then it gains speed, almost imperceptibly, as the circle’s diameter shrinks around you.

It is a fin—not a cavernous jaw. A thin, sloping triangle of cartilage poking up from the dark ocean. It is not the 2,000-pound hulk of a great white shark you see, but in some ways it is a more frightening sight—precisely because of what remains unseen.

That, if you’ll forgive this analogy, is what the so-called “Skinny Repeal” was. Skinny, of course, was the last and most cynical of the various Trumpcare resolutions that the Senate Majority Leader put forth this week—and which the full Senate voted on, and ultimately rejected, in the dead of night. This eight-page bill was the dorsal fin of legislation: It was alarming for what it didn’t show.

The Republican leadership asked its caucus to vote on provisions that remained not only unseen, but undetermined—left to the vagaries of two handfuls of negotiators, from two legislative chambers, who would have the power, essentially, to rewrite the bill any way they chose. Once out of conference, GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate would feel all the more obligated to pass it, whatever it turned out to be.

The other potential outcome—again, unknowable, really—was that the House would pass the Senate’s Skinny as written, shoving Obamacare off the mountainside without a viable replacement plan and without the slightest hint of its effects on the health of a nation.

Whatever you think of John McCain—whether you like him or not, support his political views or reject them outright—the senior senator from Arizona—along with two other Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine—refused to append their names to a bill they couldn’t see. The three swam up to the predator below the fin and punched it square in the nose last night.

Senator McCain, it should be noted, had long been part of the “Repeal Obamacare” chorus. He had voted to support previous efforts to kill the ACA. But last night’s roll call wasn’t about repeal-and-replace. It was a legislative feint, a big ole’ “Close your eyes and trust me.” I’m happy to say that McCain—who spoke eloquently earlier in the week about the dangers of such reckless political tactics—put his vote where his mouth is.

Finally, I was going to dedicate this last Shark Week essay to Shark Tank—posing the question: “Why don’t we have a Shark Tank for healthcare startups?” Feel free to write me with your own answers to that question.

This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.