Republicans On Capitol Hill Admitting Defeat On Health Care Reform
Politico reports that Republicans on Capitol Hill are once again admitting defeat on the seven-year-long effort to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act:
For the first time, rank-and-file Republicans are acknowledging Obamacare may never be repealed.
After multiple failures to repeal the law, the White House and many GOP lawmakers are publicly promising to try again in early 2018. But privately, both House and Senate Republicans acknowledge they may never be able to deliver on their seven-year vow to scrap the law.
“Personally, I don’t” see it, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I just don’t know how you can reconcile a bill you’ve taken two whiffs at already and couldn’t get the votes.”
Some sound almost resigned to the new reality. “I’d say it’s 50-50,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said of the prospect the law will remain in place.
Republicans are torn between the potency of their longtime rallying cry against Obamacare — so popular with GOP donors and their base that it helped flip both houses of Congress and the White House — and the reality they’ve wasted nine months of what is supposed to be the most productive time of a new administration failing to get it done. With few legislative accomplishments so far to show voters, failure on Obamacare repeal could prove to be a major liability in the 2018 midterm elections.
Even if Republicans try again next year, few House Republicans are confident the Senate would be successful without a change in the GOP lineup or someone flipping their vote.
“Anytime you fumble twice, there’s the anticipation that you’ll fumble for the third time,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Do Senate Republicans have “credibility? Yes. Believability? Perhaps no.”
Nearly every Republican interviewed for this story insisted they still oppose the health care law and want to see the repeal effort move forward. But the failure to gather 50 Senate votes before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a bill without the chance of a Democratic filibuster has injected a new dose of realism — and political vulnerability — into their ranks. Once-lofty campaign promises to tear out Obamacare “root and branch,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said throughout his 2014 reelection campaign, are as likely to produce winces as cheers.
All of this comes, of course, as we come close to the end of a year that has seen Republicans come closer than they ever have to following through on their nearly decade-long promise to bring down the Affordable Care Act. For most of that time, of course, the rhetoric on health care was just that, rhetoric. After gaining control of the House in the 2010 elections, Republicans held repeated votes on repealing the Affordable Care Act that amounted to little more than symbolism for the GOP base due to the fact that Democrats controlled the Senate. The only semi-serious effort the GOP made during this whole period was the 2013 government shutdown, which largely ended up blowing up in the faces of those who were its primary architects. When they finally gained control of the Senate in 2014, Republicans did manage to get a bill to the President’s desk but, of course, that measure was vetoed and no real effort was made to override that veto since the GOP clearly didn’t have the votes to do so. Instead, these votes were basically nothing more than red meat for the base and a means to finance fundraising appeals by Republican candidates, political action committees, and Tea Party groups.
All of that changed, of course, after the 2016 election. With the Republican Party in control of the House, Senate, and the White House, there was essentially no excuse for Republicans who ran on the idea of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Under these circumstances, and thanks to the fact that Senate Republicans could use the reconciliation process to push a repeal and replace bill through without having to worry about the sixty vote threshold usually necessary to invoke cloture, there was seemingly no reason why the GOP shouldn’t have been able to follow through on a promise they had been making to their base for nearly a decade. What they didn’t realize, of course, was that political reality meant that things would be far tougher than they appeared to be.
The fact that things would not be as simple as many expected should have been obvious from the start. The effort in the House nearly failed all on its own before that body passed the American Health Care Act on a party-line vote in early May. That bill, however, never even got considered by the Senate since it was apparent from the start that it had no chance of getting even fifty votes from Senate Republicans. Instead, the Senate GOP came up with its own bill, but that bill ended up facing difficulty before it even made it to the floor thanks in no small part to a devastating score from the Congressional Budget Office. In response, Senate Republicans put forward a revised plan that also received a bad CBO score and quickly came under fire. When it became obvious that this bill would also fail to get even the fifty votes required to pass the bill under the Senates relaxed reconciliation rules, Majority Leader McConnell proposed yet another plan that would repeal the Affordable Care Act without actually replacing it with anything, but that plan ended up falling apart after only eighteen hours. Undaunted, the Senate still refused to give up and decided to go forward even though it was unclear which direction they were heading. The bill that finally resulted from that process ended up dying in dramatic fashion just before the August recess thanks to late-night thumbs down that sealed the bill’s fate. Finally, the Senate made one last effort last month with the bill proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy that would have turned much of what the PPACA is all about into a huge block grant program that gave money to the states, who could then create whatever version of health care reform they wanted. The effort to pass that bill also proved to be unsuccessful and with it so did the current effort to repeal or replace the PPACA since Senate Republicans can no longer take advantage of reconciliation rules to get around the sixty-vote threshold.
As I noted when the final effort to repeal and replace the PPACA was pulled from the Senate floor in September, the biggest question going forward for Republicans will be what this failure will mean for the GOP going forward. For seven years, Republicans ran on promises to ‘repeal and replace’ the PPACA, using that promise to get donations and votes from a base that had an especially strong hatred for that bill. The fact that they were unable to do so even after having control of all the political branches of government is something that isn’t likely to reverberate well with base voters and is at least part of the motivation behind the war that Steve Bannon has declared against Senate Republicans heading into the 2018 elections. The fact that repeal and replace has failed, and is unlikely to be revived before the 2018 midterms has the potential to give momentum to this war. The Tea Party movement was largely organized around opposition to the PPACA, and it was in no small part the basis for the energy that led to Republican electoral successes in 2010, 2014, and 2016 that allowed led to the GOP taking control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the vast majority of state legislatures and Governor’s Mansions, and ultimately the Presidency itself. That last accomplishment occurred notwithstanding the fact that the GOP’s 2016 candidate was seemingly the worst possible choice to lead them to victory. Despite all of this wins, and all of the fundraising and organizing that was done around the whole ‘repeal and replace’ mantra, Republicans have proven unable to come up with the votes needed to accomplish what they promised for nearly a decade. What impact that will have heading into 2018 and beyond is unclear, but, as I’ve said before, it’s unlikely to be pretty.