In 2015 Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly passed a measure to repeal Obamacare. The repeal package, embedded in a budget reconciliation bill, never had a chance to become law as long as President Obama was in office and could veto it.
Now that Republicans have both chambers of the legislative branch and the executive branch, why don’t they simply roll out the same repeal package, that also defunded Planned Parenthood, and vote on it? It seems easy, doesn’t it?
Here’s what’s not easy: The Republican party of the past eight years has focused its efforts on obstruction, symbolic votes, and channeling the anger of disaffected Americans. They’re not in the habit of proposing actionable solutions that will help everyday Americans.
When they voted to repeal Obamacare in 2015 they didn’t need a plan to replace it but now they are faced with the challenge of governing and making hard choices while owning the consequences. Among the most politically unappealing consequences, of course, is facing constituents who will lose their health coverage when they vote to repeal. What incumbent Republican wants to go into the midterms after voting to deprive hundreds of thousands of their constituents of healthcare? The town hall meetings would be acrimonious and the campaign ads of Democratic challengers would be brutal.
There are many factors that will contribute to the fate of Obamacare, but here are two particularly important ones:
- Republicans are deeply divided about the way forward with some voting to simply repeal while others – who hail from more moderate states – arguing for a slower repeal and likely a piecemeal replacement of Obamacare’s most popular elements with Republican-branded measures. Hardliners, like Senator Rand Paul and members of the House Freedom Caucus will resist anything short of repeal. They campaigned on repealing Obamacare and are signaling that they won’t be satisfied with anything less. Division within the congressional Republican caucus is growing as the days of the Trump administration roll by with no clear plan in sight.
- A plan should, in fact, be blessed by the Trump administration but there is echoing silence on Obamacare from the White House since Trump took office. We know that Trump has vowed to NOT kick people off their healthcare and that he will replace Obamacare with something better and less costly. The details of how he will manage to do so, or at least create the appearance that he has done so, are not yet clear. In a recent Politico piece Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) spoke to the futility of Congress working on a repeal/replace strategy without guidance from Trump himself: “It’s hard to see how this gets done unless the president says, ‘OK, let’s do it this way,’” he said.
Meanwhile, Trump is finding the challenges of the Oval Office more extensive than he thought with a daily menu of difficult decisions that have no easy answers every day. Distracted by his failure with General Flynn as National Security Adviser and consumed with his image on the cable news shows he watches throughout the day, it’s understandable that he has limited bandwidth to tackle the challenge of keeping his promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better.
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