Mitch McConnell is generally a very calculated and crafty politician, carefully avoiding uncertainty with trademark zeal. As the GOP had to avert from their plan B and then quickly saw their plan C defeated, McConnell looked dazed and confused in a way few have seen him before. He addressed the cameras in a hushed tone, clearly displaying his displeasure that the GOP wasn’t able to achieve the signature thing they’ve promised for the last 7 years.
McConnell seemed genuinely hopeful that the GOP’s revised health bill was going to make it to the President’s desk. With Senator John McCain (R – AZ) undergoing surgery and Senators Ron Paul (R – KY) and Susan Collins (R – MN) voicing their opposition to the rise bill upon its unveiling, McConnell became decidedly less confident. That said, he planned to delay the vote until Mr. McCain left the hospital and, knowing McCain’s toughness, he wasn’t expecting that to take long. Then something of a bombshell hit McConnell land as 2 more Senators Mike Lee (R – UT) and Jerry Moran (R – KS) announced their opposition to the bill, ending its viability.
And then, in a move that seemed brisk and imprudent for the usually calculated McConnell, he announced the Senate GOP would simply vote to repeal Obamacare and worry about replacing it later. This is the approach President Trump has been suggesting for the last few days on Twitter. Again McConnell seemed genuinely hopeful that his party would come together and get it done.
Perhaps McConnell has amnesia, but it was clear to anyone who’s been paying attention over the course of this debate that a straight repeal was very unpopular with a number of Republican Senators. When the idea was first brought up, it was abundantly clear the Senate wouldn’t have the votes to repeal without a replacement. And yet, McConnell put repeal on the table, making huge splashes throughout news media. As quickly as the flame was lit, three Senators doused it. Early Tuesday morning McConnell officially announced plans for a straight repeal, and within a few hours Susan Collins, Shelley Moore Capito (R – WV), and Lisa Murkowski (R – AK) announced that they would not be voting for a straight repeal.
The irony of three GOP women killing a bill which has been written by a Senate working group of 13 men was lost on no one. Associated Press reporter Alan Fram titled it the “revenge of the GOP women.”
Trump feigned indifference in front of the cameras Tuesday after the news had circulated Washington, blaming Democrats and stating bluntly, “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say, ‘How do we fix it?’”
Those are three very flawed premises, as one would assume the President is well aware of. First, Republicans are going to own it. Fixing healthcare was their day one agenda. Six months in and, barring some drastic reforms, their bid to repeal Obamacare is gone forever. This despite control of both houses of Congress and the President. Voters know that a party with a majority in both houses of Congress and the White House should be able to get legislation passed. Either Trump is playing dumb or he thinks voters are dumb.
Second, Obamacare isn’t going to fail, at least not on its own. The ACA has slowed down the price of medical inflation, continues to expand coverage, and now is seeing insurers reenter the market. It’s nowhere near a perfect healthcare system, but it’s also nowhere near failing. As has been noted by healthcare policy experts, the only way that Obamacare “fails” is if the Trump administration interferes in the marketplace by allowing non-enforcement of the individual mandate by Health and Human Services (HHS). Again, if Trump genuinely believes that voters will reward the GOP for letting the healthcare system fail he may choose to go this route, but it would be an awful move politically.
Third, the idea that Democrats are going to come to the GOP to fix Obamacare is laughably absurd. First, it’s their party’s signature piece of legislation in two decades. Second, as stated previous, Democrats would be much wiser to take advantage of the GOP’s failures politically, using attack ads of Trump letting the healthcare system fail to win House and Senate seats.
The hidden story behind the GOP’s healthcare failure is grassroots activism. Social media campaigns, petition drives, and protest marches have lit up GOP districts around the country for months now in opposition to this bill. The longer the bill sat in limbo the more intense the activism became, and it was too much for Senators to ignore. Vulnerable GOP Senators in blue or purple states, in particular, knew they couldn’t vote for a bill that would throw tens of millions of people off healthcare, and they were reminded of it every time they returned home to their district.
Some pundits have also suggested that Senators who ostensibly opposed the bill on Conservative/Libertarian principals, like Senator Rand Paul, were in earnest worried about what the bill would do to their constituents. Kentucky is a Medicaid Expansion state with hundreds of thousands of low income earners who rely on subsidies. Maybe Paul really was opposed to the bill because it didn’t create a free enough market for him, or maybe he was worried about thousands of angry voters back home.
While one can never be sure of anything when it comes to today’s GOP advancing legislation that’s unpopular with the vast majority of the American people, it appears that Obamacare is definitively here to stay, and the next Democratic administration will have a chance to expand and improve upon it. You can thank ‘The Resistance’ for that.