Picking through the wreckage of Obamacare repeal

  • 27 March 2017
  • NormanL
Picking through the wreckage of Obamacare repeal

In the aftermath of the failed effort to pass replacement legislation for Obamacare, the usual DC response is working overtime: point accusing fingers at the other guy. And hope none of the blame sticks to you.

We aren't entirely surprised the bill failed to pass, given that the early reviews of the legislation were damning. But there will be consequences for the effort's failure. Just as there are lessons. The Washington Examiner's Byron York has assembled a useful list of takeaways, and it would be in everyone's best interest to read them. Here is a sample:

9) Keep it simple. Ryan and the GOP leadership came up with a Rube Goldberg scenario for passing Obamacare repeal-and-replace. There was a three-step plan, concessions to Senate reconciliation, and the insistence that Obamacare had to come in sequence before tax reform, the budget, infrastructure or anything else. It all got way too complicated to benefit from Trump's talents as a simplifier and a salesman.

10) Ryan is on probation. For years, House Republicans were able to pass bills like repealing Obamacare with the assurance that they didn't really mean anything; a Democratic president would veto them. Now, with a Republican president, GOP lawmakers are, in the words of Sen. Bob Corker, "shooting with real bullets." On Friday, Ryan failed his first real-bullets test as leader of a Congressional majority. "We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was the easy thing to do," the Speaker said.

11) On big-ticket items, the president leads Congress, not the other way around.

12) The arcs of Obamacare failure and GOP outrage are out of sync. Republican outrage over Obamacare soared after Democrats rammed it down their throats in 2009-2010. Now, while there is still intense opposition to the healthcare law inside the GOP, it has not stayed at that 2009-2010 level. In retrospect, Republicans were maddest at Obamacare before it actually went into effect; it did not take hold until years after its passage and is only now showing real signs of potential collapse. So Republican zeal to get rid of Obamacare had diminished by the time Obamacare became a major problem and a danger for catastrophic failure — and by the time Republicans had control of both Capitol Hill and the White House to make repeal an actual possibility.

13) CBO estimates matter. The GOP bill suffered a terrible blow when the Congressional Budget Office estimated the plan would cause 24 million fewer people to have coverage by a decade from now. Ryan tried to make a virtue of that — many people would be exercising the freedom not to buy an insurance policy, he explained — but the net effect of the CBO assessment was devastating.

An iron rule of politics is that when you're explaining, you're losing. Republican leaders, beginning with Speaker Ryan, were constantly having to explain why their bill was necessary. Likewise, opponents had to explain why they thought it was wrong. 

That's far too many peope saying way too much about something the GOP has campaigned on for seven years. Which brings us to the blowback Ryan & Co. are getting from some conservatives:

Ryan blames “governing” vs being the opposition, but that’s a fallacious canard. The favorite phrase of those that don’t want to follow through on their campaign-trail promises is "but we have to 'govern.'"  It’s as if the only way to “govern” is to grow the size and scope of government, which is exactly what the American Health Care Act would have done.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Ryan could have easily brought up the 2015 Obamacare reconciliation bill that ultimately passed both chambers of Congress in January of 2016, with almost every single republican voting for it. By not doing so, Ryan let us all know his dirty little secret. He didn’t mean anything he said during the last seven years of campaigning.  What Ryan means by, “being the opposition is easy,” and “governing is hard,” is that when there’s no chance of what you are supporting becoming law, it is easy to act the way the people who sent you to Washington want.  But when it really matters, it’s the lobbyists, and inside-the-Beltway interests that get their way.

This reinforces the idea that Speaker Ryan is, at this moment, damaged goods. He's not quite ready to be swept aside in favor of new management, but he's got to get a substantive win on a big issue soon. Otherwise, he will go the way of John Boehner.

There are lessosn for President Trump, too. York notes that politicians do not follow the same business script Trump has employed in his real estate dealings. That is true -- and it tells us the Administration needs to find a formula that works -- quickly -- as it tackles even bigger priorities like the budget, tax reform, and infrastructure.