Healthcare: Where Trump and congressional Republicans went wrong
From the time President Obama took office, the GOP’s goal had been to oppose him at every turn
The fixation on being “anti-Obama” over the last seven years has given congressional Republicans a lack of focus when it comes to passing a healthcare bill
Recently, we have seen the U.S. Senate’s version of Obamacare implode. As President Trump had dinner with seven Republican Senators that were “on board,” two others, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas issued statements that they would not support the legislation. Clearly, this is a crushing defeat for the president, who made “Repeal and Replace” a household term chanted by his base throughout the campaign. That same base expected the promise to be delivered upon immediately upon Trump becoming president. It wasn’t. There are a few key reasons.
While stating they wanted to provide better care, more choices and less cost, Congress doing the above while seeking the removal of the individual mandate and taxes that make affording care possible are conflicting goals. Without being able to assure insurance carriers that there will be subsidies to pay for those that are sicker, instability results that will make carriers hesitant to stay in the marketplace.
If Republicans weren’t sure their plans (both House and Senate) would cover fewer people and make premiums rise, estimates from the Congressional Budget Office confirmed it. Also, many of Trump’s supporters benefit from Obamacare, and the fact that Obama himself is gone removes some of the sting of admitting the virtues of the program. Many Republican governors closer to the problem have stood with Democrats in opposing the Congressional proposals. While many of their own constituents have come to see Obamacare as better than the proposed alternatives (despite its clear problems), Congressional Republicans nevertheless proceeded to seek passage of bills with even more problems, just to cross a finish line.
President Trump sought his first big victory on the issue that now unites Democrats the most. While Democrats wavered in their support of President Obama during mid-term elections, and polls indicate they are not always clear on where they stand, all of them stood in lockstep against Repeal and Replace. The devastating impact of the House and Senate bills made this easy. Meanwhile, infrastructure, which we desperately need, which historically has been a bipartisan political objective, would have been a much harder issue for all Democrats to rally against.
In fairness, many said Obama spent precious political capital on healthcare which then weakened him in other objectives later on. This may be true. However, he took a calculated gamble that healthcare was worth it and he got healthcare done. And, in some form, chances are it will survive. Trump has spent the political capital, lost on healthcare, and with his other problems (i.e. Russia), is severely weakened going forward. His calls to “let Obamacare fail,” despite disagreement from many on both sides of the aisle, aside from severely affecting lives, will weaken his party, which could pay a political price for perceived inaction because it is in charge.
From the time President Obama took office, the GOP’s goal had been to oppose him at every turn. So, even as he took centrist if not conservative positions on various issues, like cap and trade, for instance, congressional Republicans pushed back, often without proposing concrete alternatives. Healthcare was no different. While Obamacare is painted as a liberal concoction, it was not long ago when President Obama took heat from the left because it did not go far enough to involve the government in healthcare and control costs, i.e., no single payer and no public option.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently reminded us that Obamacare was a product of a “conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by [Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney].” It looks much like the alternative Sen. Bob Dole proposed in response to Bill Clinton’s healthcare proposal (through Hillary) in the early 1990s. Had Obamacare truly been more of a liberal program, Republicans would now have been able to seize the “middle” — where most people are anyway — claiming to have changed things, but actually charting the course that Obama put us on.
In short, Obamacare truly would have been a liberal plan, Trumpcare would have been Obamacare, and Republicans would claim victory by “repealing and replacing” it. But, Obama took that from them.
Of course, Obama truly would have never gotten a liberal healthcare plan completed, just as Republicans in Congress are having trouble passing a far right plan now. Obamacare passed because it was “in the middle”; it had to be so more conservative Democratic senators could support it. In short, Obama sensed what he could get passed and got it passed. Trump did no such homework and has yet to demonstrate such presidential instincts.
The fixation by congressional Republicans on being “anti-Obama” more than on coming up with actual plans over the last seven years has given them — despite controlling the Executive barn and Congress — a lack of focus and/or wherewithal to accomplish worthy goals to the detriment of our country.