Seeing red, Donald Trump waved the white flag of surrender on Obamacare early Friday morning.
The Republican-led Congress isn’t dumb enough to follow his frustrated call for lawmakers to help him repeal the law without a replacement plan attached.
That’s why Trump’s tweet — “If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” — is more the primal scream of a man in retreat than a serious proposal. But it’s also a reminder that his own party can’t trust him to stick to the plan or back up those who have taken political risks for their shared agenda.
If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2017
Maybe it should be surprising that Trump is giving up so easily. Has he no other ideas for how to resolve the mess he’s in? But it should be disconcerting for the GOP leaders and rank and file who care about health care policy or their own credibility.
Trump’s bully pulpit
Friday’s tweet had the feel of the Trump who threatened Democrats with sinking Obamacare after the House first balked at a repeal-and-replace bill. He said back in March that Obamacare would “explode,” forcing Democrats to come crawling to him.
In Trump’s view, it seems, a clean Obamacare repeal would accelerate that process and put pressure on Democrats to come to the table. Here’s what it would really do: Rob millions of Americans, including many Trump voters, of needed health insurance. Many of them would be denied access to care because of pre-existing medical conditions.
Think about that for a minute. Would a president really play political games with the fates — literally, the fates — of so many people as an experiment in accruing and exercising leverage? Trump’s slogan wasn’t Americans First, but still, it’s reasonable to expect he wouldn’t try to sabotage his countrymen.
Trump’s problem — with Republicans in charge of both chambers of Congress — isn’t that Democrats are unwilling to fix his predecessor’s signature law. The primary issue is that Republicans can’t agree on how to write a health care law that would help more voters than it would hurt. The current plans in the House and Senate fall so woefully short of that basic goal that it’s easy to see why most Americans are against them.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has a less obviously harmful proposal under which Congress would vote for repeal with an effective date a year from enactment. The idea is that lawmakers would put themselves under the gun to write a replacement before facing voters again. But the GOP has had seven years to come up with a consensus plan to rewrite the law and hasn’t been able to do it.
If there was one thing Trump and congressional Republicans should have learned from the Obamacare experience, it was that new laws stand a much better chance of sticking if the president and both parties in Congress have skin in the game. Trump promised to get rid of Obamacare, so he’s taken political risk for an overhaul of the law. But he has kept most specific fixes at arm’s length. As the House bill lost steam, he called it “mean.” Now, he’s abandoning the Senate bill, which conservatives think is too generous.
Conservative groups were ecstatic Friday when Trump proposed repealing the law without a replacement. For them, a repeal without a replacement is better than no repeal at all, and they’re pretty angry at moderate Republicans who campaigned with an emphasis on the “repeal” part of the formula but now seem concerned about more aggressive rewrites of the existing law.
Somebody’s lying …
“Moderate Republicans have fundamentally lied to the voters about their true positions,” Andy Roth of the Club for Growth told reporters on a conference call, according to the Washington Examiner. Republican senators would be put to the test if a straight repeal bill was put on the floor.
As others have pointed out, Trump and Republicans in Congress have come full circle from the time in early 2016 when, amid disagreement over how to replace “Obamacare,” they simply voted for a repeal that they knew the law’s namesake would veto.
That is, Trump is now leading the GOP in circles on health care.
Anyone who doesn’t like that tack will just have to wait a few days until Trump changes direction again without notice. But he’s making it even harder for legislators to cut deals with him. How can any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, expect Trump to stay true if they work with him?