The endlessly flailing Republican quest to kill Obamacare has long been darkly entertaining. But the latest news — that Senate Trumpcare has crashed and burned — is worth a fresh bucket of popcorn.
Yes, folks, it’s back to the drawing board for the gang that can’t govern. And it’s delicious to resurrect Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, like this gem from February ’16: “We will immediately repeal and replace Obamacare — and nobody can do that like me.”
But here we are, in July ’17, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was compelled last night to issue this statement: “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful.” Which seems entirely appropriate, given the fact that public support for his draconian replacement bill was polling at roughly 20 percent.
So, for the foreseeable future, the tens of millions of Americans who have gained health coverage under the so-called “failure of Obamacare” will be safe from Republican assault. That’s because McConnell didn’t have the votes anymore. And what’s doubly delicious is that Trump, just four hours before Senate Trumpcare’s collapse, publicly declared: “We’re gonna get that done, and I think we’re gonna surprise a lot of people.” (Does that guy have the pulse of his party, or what?)
To eke out a Senate win, McConnell could only afford two Republican defections, but last night the number hit four when Mike Lee and Jerry Moran simultaneously announced their opposition. Moran, who hails from ruby-red Kansas, complained two weeks ago that the GOP’s huge Medicaid cuts would decimate “people with disabilities, the frail, and elderly” and damage “health care in rural places.” And privately, a number of Republicans are relieved that they won’t have to face the public’s wrath; as one senior GOP Senate aide texted to a reporter, “Thank god. Now the bill can die.”
Hey, remember when the House Republicans narrowly passed their draconian version of repeal-and-replace, and Trump feted them with a Rose Garden celebration? Doesn’t that seem like eons ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth? It’s comforting to know that the dinosaurs who run Washington still can’t stalk and chew gum at the same time.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous, especially when cornered.
McConnell suggested last night that, with no Plan B replacement bill remotely on the horizon, maybe the Republicans should go straight to Plan C: repeal Obamacare immediately without anything to replace it, and give themselves two more years to come up with something new. Or, as McConnell prefers to call it, “a stable two-year transition period.”
Yeah, that’s brilliant. Put tens of millions of people, and the health insurers, totally in limbo — while Republicans, who have shown no talent for governing, flail away for a few more years.
Trump seems to think this is a great idea — trumping his previous great idea, that repeal and replace should happen at the same time. Last night he tweeted: “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” (Does he truly believe that Democrats would “join in” to co-own the GOP’s sabotage of health care? This is what happens when voters entrust legislative tactics to a guy who spent years barging in on beauty queens.)
Anyway, the big problem with repeal-now/replace-whenever is that numerous Republican senators said earlier this year that it’s a terrible idea to wreak open-ended havoc on the health care system. They know they’d be blamed for causing millions to lose coverage — the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, assessing a straight repeal scenario, has put the figure at 32 million — with no assurance that better coverage would happen at some undetermined future date.
Granted, Republican senators voted overwhelmingly for repeal without a replacement back in 2015 — knowing full well that President Obama would veto it. They were fine with making the empty gesture. But running the government — and being responsible for the lives of real people — is a whole different deal.
Rand Paul said in January, “I think if you do repeal alone, the disaster continues to unfold.” Bob Corker said in January, “Why would we put off for three years what we know we have to do?” Bill Cassidy said in January, “I think we need to know where we’re going to end up in a practical way.” Tom Cotton said in January, “I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare, and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now.” Lisa Murkowski said in February, “Repeal must come along with a replacement.” Susan Collins said in January that repeal without replacement “is an option I reject, for it risks leaving millions of vulnerable Americans without affordable health insurance and would undo important consumer protections provided by current law.”
And straight repeal may be DOA anyway. Only three defections would kill it – and today, Shelley Moore said no (she says she “did not come to Washington to hurt people”), Collins said no, Murkowski said no, and Rob Portman strongly hinted a no. (Straight repeal, he said, “will add to more uncertainty and the potential for Ohioans to pay higher premiums, higher deductibles.”)
Nevertheless, McConnell seems determined to double down on failure. This morning, on the Senate floor, he said “we must continue to push forward,” even while recognizing it will “not be easy.” Which is funny, because it was Trump who promised last fall that replacing Obamacare “is gonna be so easy.”
Pass that popcorn.