The moderates who sunk Obamacare repeal may do so again

  • 3 April 2017
  • NormanL
The moderates who sunk Obamacare repeal may do so again

The dominant narrative coming out of the collapse of the GOP's first attempt to repeal Obamacare is that the Freedom Caucus is entirely to blame. Even the President has gotten on board with the idea.

The problem is, the real culprits are the GOP moderates. And they may be a problem for any repeal measure in the future:

...the contours of a deal exist that could satisfy the concerns of both the House Freedom Caucus and GOP pragmatists. They involve replacing the AHCA’s flat tax credit with a means-tested one that focuses on offering assistance to the working poor, and pairing that change with rolling back more of Obamacare’s premium-increasing insurance regulations.

But members of the Tuesday Group, the countervailing faction of House GOP moderates, are saying no to any phone calls from members of the Freedom Caucus. “If that call comes in,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.), “just hang up.”

As Eliza Collins and Herb Jackson of USA Today have reported, members of the House Freedom Caucus reached out to the Tuesday Group to see if the two blocs of “no” votes could come to an agreement that they could then take to House leadership to fix the GOP replacement bill, the American Health Care Act.

But Rep. Collins was having none of it, telling the USA Today reporters that the Tuesday Group had “unequivocally” rejected the offer to meet with their hard-line counterparts. “It’s not changing the opinions in our conference,” Collins added. “We’ve moved on. We have to move on to tax reform…I truly believe health care has moved on and won’t be dealt with until 2019, if then.”

Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, added, “I am not negotiating with anyone…I’ve seen stories that there are discussions about certain negotiations between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus. That’s not the case…Do I talk to other members? Absolutely. Am I negotiating with anyone about the bill that was just put aside? No.”

And it gets worse:

Moderate Republicans campaigned on repealing Obamacare as much as conservatives did. But they are much more fearful of how repeal may affect those in their districts that benefit from the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and subsidized insurance exchanges.

That’s the key to this story. Moderates are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They campaigned on repeal, but when push comes to shove, it’s not clear that they really want to repeal the law and face constituents who lost their coverage as a result.

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to pull the AHCA from the floor benefited moderates more than anyone else. Those moderates can still say that they support repeal, while avoiding a vote that defunds Obamacare and throws their constituents off their coverage.

That’s why another co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.), expressed opposition to negotiating with the Freedom Caucus. “When side groups start to negotiate,” he said, “the risk is upsetting other people who are not part of the process.”

So personal politics stands in the way of a full repeal of Obamacare. And the politicians standing in the way are moderate Republicans worried about their jobs, rather than on the merits of a particular policy.

They may comfort themselves by calling this "leadership" or "representing their constituents." We think it's old-fashioned careerism at work.