Did anyone actually believe the Republicans were going to come up with a bill which preserved all the things people like about Obamacare (no preexisting condition clauses, no coverage caps, adult children remaining on their parent’s policies, vastly expanded coverage, etc.) without some kind of mandate and ongoing government subsidies to reduce the costs to those without a lot of money? Their actual bill turned out to be worse than most imagined—reducing the number of people without insurance by 24 million and weakening Medicaid while at the same time providing a windfall of billions of dollars to the one-percenters. What were they thinking? Paul Ryan is supposed to be the golden boy of the conservative policy wonks. This is the best he could do? The Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare sixty times over seven years. It is not like they did not have time to think about a workable alternative. And this is what they came up with?
Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, shame on me! We Americans may not have our act together, but we aren’t that stupid. The number of people responding on polls who said they approved of the Ryan bill was about 17%. The Republicans are damn lucky that it did not pass.
So what is going on? Here is my take as to why the effort to repeal and replace was a total and complete fiasco for the Republicans (and the first good news the Democrats have had since the election) and what it bodes for the future:
- The Freedom Caucus is the albatross around the neck of Ryan and also Trump. There are only a little over 30 of them but enough—if they all vote as a block—to keep a bill from becoming law if they do not go along with it and if no Democrats vote for it. Ryan needed 21 votes from the Freedom Caucus. He did not have them though in this case a number of “moderates” also balked as well. This is significant because any bill that does not get any Freedom Caucus votes will need some Democratic support to pass. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the only things the Freedom Caucus tends to support are so far to the right that Republican “moderates” in contested districts get cold feet. As long as this dynamic is in play, the only bills that will become law will need to be bi partisan, something that has been generally missing for eight years on the Hill. This becomes even more important in the Senate when more than two Republican defections will kill a bill and the filibuster option is also available.
- Trump is a phony and a lightweight. This will come as no surprise to Democrats; and if the Republicans are not figuring this out yet, shame on them. By all accounts he had not read the bill or know what was in it, and did not get involved until the last minute. Arrogantly, he assumed that when the “art of the deal” genius he claims himself to be stepped in, he would get his way. When he did finally endorse the Ryan bill, he supported a bill that if it became law would have harmed a large number of his working class supporters who are benefitting from Obamacare. Nothing that Trump has done so far has benefitted them in any way; and the way things are going, it is doubtful that anything he does will. His populist message was a complete sham, a bait and switch. Just look as his cabinet—mostly billionaires like himself—and the main reason behind Ryancare was really the tax rebates for the fat cats.
- They may not realize it, but this is a big time decision moment for the Republicans and for Trump—and will determine whether they are able accomplish much of anything in the years ahead or if we remain hopelessly locked in a bitter stalemate. Trump’s in-your-face arrogance and his desire to shake up the Republic by doing everything his way—or perhaps more accurately, Bannon’s way– without bipartisan cooperation will not work. Because of the Freedom Caucus he must get some Democrats to vote with him. This should be a wake up call. Instead of encouraging the “explosion” of Obamacare, Trump and the Republican “moderates” should try to work with the Democrats to try to fix it. Instead of taking extremist, right wing positions to stir up his base, he should move to the middle and find common ground with Democrats on issues like immigration, climate change and tax reform. Naïve wishful thinking? Maybe, but on the bright side, you could say that if Trump uses the Ryancare fiasco as a learning moment, this could make a world of difference.
- Sadly the prospects for that happening do not look good. Trump’s tendency we all know is to double down. Just yesterday he said again that evidence would show the Obama wire tapped his phone. He just does not seem to get it. He can’t help himself. While I hope of for an epiphany moment, I do not expect it to happen.
My prediction is that Trump will be a short timer. He will not last that long. It could be the Russian Connection. It could be his inability to get anything passed, forcing him to take his marbles and go home. If that happens the challenge to work on a bi partisan basis will fall into Pence’s lap and will be just as dire. Pence is a hard core ideologue, who seems to have drunk the far right, Republican cool aid; but unlike his boss, he seems to have both a heart and a brain. Perhaps there is a kernel of hope.
With or without Trump, the time is now. We need leaders of both parties to step up, find at least some common ground in the middle and work to address the life-and-death issues like climate change, terrorism, and a fair and equitable society that if not addressed will bring us all down.
So while the debacle of Ryancare may bring brief relief—even delight—to us Democrats, the “victory” will be short lived. There is work to be done to address the major issues that affect us all. If this does not result in a re-set and a move toward bipartisanship, we are all in trouble.