Republican lawmakers have found themselves in a strange position, they have all the power in Washington and an incredibly rare opportunity to enact the agenda they have pushed for almost a decade. However, much to their dismay their coalition is having an incredibly difficult time actually passing any legislation. There are no institutional impediments, yet they cannot get anything done. There are a lot of reasons for their precarious position, but they all really come back to the consequences of constantly overselling themselves and over promising to their base.
To make matters worse their outlandish promises are exactly the opposite of the policy positions the Republican’s should stake out if they wanted to remain true to their ideal of “fiscal responsibility.” Which just makes their distasteful salesmanship that much more dangerous.
Take the Republican’s long and storied history battling the Affordable Care Act. Since the ACA’s inception the Republican Party branded it a socialist takeover of American healthcare. Such a move completely glosses over the origins of the legislative framework that eventually turned into the ACA that managed to work its way through congress. The idea of an insurance marketplace using mandates to push people to pay for their own coverage was hatched in the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. And was first applied in the real world by Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts.
Some of the more liberal provisions in the bill such as a public option for medicare buy in were nixed before it ever reached President Obama’s desk. What emerged was a relatively conservative approach to American health care that favored the insurance industry, brought them millions of new customers, and solved some very real problems on the margins. Such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing people to remain on their parents coverage until 26.
That didn’t stop the Republicans from whipping up their base into a grassroots frenzy, largely focused on countering Obama as a character and personality, but there were also legitimate policy proposals pushed by the most ardent Tea Party darlings. The idea that “Obamacare” as they dubbed the ACA was a government takeover that would destroy American health care while creating long lines for care was by far the most popular. Republican lawmakers seized that narrative and ran with it.
For years, whenever given the chance, Republican’s bemoaned what they described as the Affordable Care Act’s role in increased insurance premiums. They took President Obama to task for saying “folks will get to keep their doctors” and they constantly bashed Nancy Pelosi for “passing a bill to see what’s in it.” They constantly bashed the bill and those who passed it, symbolically voting to repeal it literally dozens of times. All the while they campaigned on the idea that whatever Republican lawmakers proposed would actually solve those very problems Obamacare could not. Republicans implicitly promised healthcare that would grant coverage to everybody, lower premiums, leave little disruption, all the while relying on less government. Yet that plan has not materialized and it won’t, for one simple reason.
There is no health care plan. Definitely not one that will accomplish all the Republican Party has promised. They lied, repeatedly, for the better part of a decade.
It didn’t have to play out like this. There are commonsense legislative proposals the Republican Party could have enacted had they felt so inclined. For example a single payer health care system would very effectively increase access to care while also creating a mechanism to control costs. There are downsides of course, but it would accomplish at least part of what they claimed to be trying to achieve. Republicans could build on the Heritage inspired ACA, perhaps providing a public option and more robust subsidies for middle class families experiencing drastic premium hikes. The coverage might not be perfect, but it puts a floor on some current problems while staying true to conservative legislative principles. They don’t seem interested in real solutions though.
Instead Republicans seem content to keep making big promises they never intend to keep.