Politics & Policy

The Party of Bad Faith?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Despite repeated promises, Republicans can’t seem to repeal Obamacare.

If the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare ultimately fails, it will be a lesson in the wages of political bad faith.

The bill has plenty of obstacles, including the sheer inertia of the Obamacare status quo and the fact that no one has made the public case for the Republican legislation. But the effort also suffers from a mismatch between the longtime public posture of Republicans (Obamacare must and will be fully repealed) and their private misgivings (do we really have to do this, even partially?).

It’s not just that Republicans have said for years that they would repeal Obamacare; they actually voted to do it. In December 2015, a bill passed the Senate that was more stringent than the version now struggling for GOP support. The 2015 bill only tried to repeal Obamacare (although it fell short of that goal), while the current bill attempts to repeal and replace, i.e., forge a Republican alternative.

Only two Republican senators voted against the 2015 repeal, Susan Collins of Maine, who is still a “no,” and Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is out of the Senate. Everyone else was on board, and celebrated a righteous blow against Obamacare. Winston Churchill said that nothing is so exhilarating as getting shot at without consequence. For Republicans, nothing was as exhilarating as repealing Obamacare without consequence.

The repeal bill inevitably got vetoed by President Barack Obama. Republican congressional leaders thought they could pick up where they had left off. They failed to account for the changed — and more difficult — dynamic with a Republican in the White House ready and eager to sign whatever gets to his desk.

The prospects of the current bill are clouded by the hesitance of the Medicaid moderates, Republican senators from states that accepted the Obamacare expansion of the program. The legislation is hardly Dickensian on this front. It allows states to continue the expansion, but, over time, brings the level of federal funding for the new population down to the levels for the rest of Medicaid (years from now, it also establishes a new per capita formula for all of Medicaid). The 2015 law was tougher on the expansion — it simply ended it after two years — and yet all of today’s hand-wringers voted for it.

Perhaps they are disturbed by the coverage numbers the Congressional Budget Office has produced about the current bill? According to the CBO, it would lead to 22 million fewer people having insurance. But the earlier repeal bill, per the CBO, would have led to 32 million fewer people having insurance. 

Perhaps they think the current bill should be more generous? The fact is the Senate bill unveiled a few weeks ago spends roughly $600 billion on replacing Obamacare, or $600 billion more than the December 2015 bill. It has since been revised to spend even more, and scale back the tax cuts.

As the publication Health Affairs starkly noted of the 2015 legislation at the time, “it would end the premium tax credits, the cost-sharing reduction payments, the Medicaid expansion, and the small business tax credits — that is, all of the assistance that the ACA gives to low and moderate-income Americans.”

(Rand Paul, whose shtick is libertarian purity, is guilty of his own hypocrisy. He portrays the 2015 bill as preferable to the current version, which he opposes for not fully repealing Obamacare regulations. But the 2015 bill didn’t touch any of the major Obamacare regulations.)

All of this is why the Plan B endorsed by President Donald Trump — to revert to a repeal-only bill if the current bill fails — is a non-starter. If there aren’t 50 Republican votes for today’s relatively generous bill, there won’t be 50 votes for anything like what passed a year and a half ago. Unless, perhaps, Trump promises to veto it, and Senate Republicans can consider it once again a blissfully consequence-free vote.

READ MORE:

If Republicans Do Nothing against Obamacare, Their Voters Will Punish Them

Republicans’ Grim Health-Care Fairy Tale

The Republican Health-Care Mistake

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2017 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Elections

In Defense of the Electoral College

Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is ... Read More
Elections

Stick a Fork in O’Rourke

If, as I wrote last week here, Joe Biden may save the Democratic party from a horrible debacle at the polls next year, Beto O’Rourke may be doing the whole process a good turn now. Biden, despite his efforts to masquerade as the vanguard of what is now called progressivism, is politically sane and, if ... Read More
National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict -- countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and ... Read More
Elections

Beto-mania and Our Cult of Personality Politics

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke’s biggest fans and supporters insist he is a forward-thinking, future-oriented visionary, but no contender for the Democratic nomination feels more familiar than the former three-term congressman from El Paso. That’s because he has the highest combined score in both déjà vu ... Read More