JAMES CALEBRESI ’20
Last Thursday on the anniversary of Obamacare’s passing, President Trump and the Republicans were forced to announce that its replacement, the American Health Care Act, would not be called to a vote due to its lack of Republican support. In a time when the Republican party is in almost perfect control of the government, and has the ability to pass a bill of their wildest desires, their first action has ended in utter failure. Russel Berman in a recent Atlantic article perfectly characterized the hypocrisy of their failure: “To a man and woman, nearly every one of the 237 Republicans elected to the House last November made the same promise to voters: Give us control of Congress and the White House, and we will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.”
Now that this promise has been debunked by even the threat of a House vote, it is clear that Republican outrage was meant as a way to oppose President Obama, with the critiques of Obamacare not substantial enough for actual repeal. While Obama did renege on his promise to allow patients to keep their doctors and his programs’ premiums increased markedly, his final bill was crafted between left and right proposals, dropping the more liberal public option in concessions so the bill could be implemented across the country. Despite the fact that Republicans knew there wasn’t much room on the right for Obamacare to be shifted, they made Obamacare repeal central to their efforts, urging Trump to make it one of his ‘first 100 days’ actions.
However, when Republicans decided to push for this repeal effort, they chose to focus on the shortcomings of Obamacare, rather than the benefits of a new system. The problem of this hyper-partisan tactic is that while it can work to help get legislation across, or rile up the political base, the ideological argument it rests on easily crumbles if no better proposition presents itself. This is evident in Republicans’ actions over the Obama years. They increasingly became the party of ‘No,’ rejecting Obamacare, welfare efforts, and “snowflake” personalities. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in a Washington Post Article, “the genius of the left is to keep expanding the entitlement state by creating new giveaways that are politically impossible to repeal.” Perhaps then Republicans are better suited to use the popularity of the ‘entitlement’ that is Obamacare, which has a 12-point lead over President Trump, according to a Fox News poll, to leverage some popular support. Take the idea of opening state lines between health insurers as an example. Were Republicans able to convince their insurance donors to let it fly (not likely), they could help improve existing free-market prices thanks to natural competition. For the next few months, this victory would help Republicans control the narrative, leading to a senatorial rout in the midterms.
Fortunately for Democrats, there is no such unity among donors, Republican, and President Trump. Instead, on one side there is House Speaker Paul Ryan pushing house members for a vote, and on the other President Trump quoted in the New York Times for saying that within his “rocking” administration there are a “lot of players with a very different mind-set.”
The fracture seemed to deepen following the defeat, which Democrats and Progressives paraded as proof of Obamacare’s success. The night of the loss, President Trump tweet-manded the already buzzing nation to go watch a long and calculated tirade by Judge Jeanine Pirro, who called for Ryan’s removal from office. The next day, Ryan’s office put out a statement claiming that the President’s tweet had nothing to do with the Speaker; “The speaker and president talked for an hour yesterday about moving forward on the agenda and their relationship is stronger than ever right now.” To be clear, this is objectively the closest their relationship has come to full out war, which we will have to look out for in the future.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Democrats are not sleeping on the opportunity to remind the people why Obamacare won and Republicare failed. Now that positive media coverage, strewn with praise for the Affordable Care Act, reminds the country what Democrats have done for the people, some Congress members have spoken up to dream bigger. Senator Bernie Sanders made a ‘yuge’ announcement following the defeat of the AHCA, proposing legislation for a progressive Medicare for all single-payer system. While this proposal is unlikely to get anywhere near enough votes to pass, it might help force divided Conservatives to jump onto a common-sense drug importation bill that will objectively help millions of Americans afford prescriptions. As the country moves forward with a weakened Republican party, it remains to see who will wrestle influence and control out of the commotion.