The GOP’s failed Obamacare repeal
President Donald Trump and House Republicans were embroiled in a bitter blame game this week, after intra-party disagreements forced humiliated GOP leaders to abandon their long-promised health-care bill just 17 days after unveiling it. The brainchild of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the American Health Care Act would have eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which imposes financial penalties on those without insurance; replaced its income-based subsidies with smaller, age-based tax credits; and reversed the law’s Medicaid expansion. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that these changes would have reduced the deficit but increased the number of Americans without insurance by 24 million by 2026. In the Republicancontrolled House, Ryancare prompted fierce resistance from two GOP factions: moderates concerned over its impact on seniors and Medicaid recipients, and the Freedom Caucus, a group of about 30 hard-line conservatives who objected to the bill’s continued use of federal dollars to subsidize individuals’ health care. After days of offering concessions and trying to cajole lawmakers into backing the bill, Trump gave Freedom Caucus members a final take-it-orleave- it ultimatum last Thursday. When they and at least a dozen moderates refused to budge, Ryan pulled the bill the next day.
The president’s spokesman said Trump “left everything on the field” in his efforts to pass the legislation. Trump himself initially blamed Democrats, and said the opposition party would agree to a “beautiful deal” when Obamacare “explodes.” (See Talking Points.) But he later directed his ire at the Freedom Caucus, saying its members had snatched “defeat from the jaws of victory,” and “saved Planned Parenthood and Obamacare.” Trump did not blame Ryan explicitly, but did encourage his Twitter followers to watch a Fox News show that began with the host, Jeanine Pirro, calling for the speaker’s resignation. “I have never seen an administration as incompetent,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “So much for the art of the deal.”
Ryan acknowledged that his party had “come up short,” adding, “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” But Republican leaders and the White House this week revived negotiations on health-care legislation in hopes of finding a workable compromise.
What the editorials said
What an astonishing display of political incompetence, said The New York Times. Republicans have spent seven years promising to repeal Obamacare, yet when they finally got their chance, they submitted a heartless “turkey of a bill” that was supported by just 17 percent of voters. As for the supposedly “great dealmaker” in the Oval Office, Trump proved “completely ineffectual” at bringing lawmakers into line. The failure of “TrumpRyanCare” is “good for the country”—the bill would have left millions unable to afford insurance, and millions more with higher health-care costs—but it is truly “humiliating for the Republican leadership.”
“For once, the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat,” said The Wall Street Journal. This was a “major blow” for the Trump administration, the Republican Party, and “the cause of reforming and limiting government.” But there’s no question who bears responsibility for this debacle: the Freedom Caucus. They haughtily dismissed the bill as “Obamacare Lite”—but their “rule-orruin strategy” has essentially enshrined “the Obamacare status quo.”
What the columnists said
Trump won the presidency boasting about his negotiating prowess, said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. “What went wrong?” Well, the president showed an appalling lack of interest in the bill’s details—“Forget about the little s---,” he reportedly told Freedom Caucus holdouts—and “never sold the bill to the public.” With Trump’s approval ratings hovering at record lows and the bill itself polling horribly, he couldn’t charm or bully Republican lawmakers into supporting it. They clearly “fear their voters more than they fear him.”
No one could have saved this “slapdash” bill, said Harold Pollack in Politico.com. Ryan had the chance to craft legislation “consistent with Trump’s economic populist rhetoric”—instead, he tried to rush through a politically toxic mess that stripped low-income Americans of health care in order to enact $600 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy. This was a failure of “policy and legislative strategy— things that were supposed to be Ryan’s special sauce— not of tactics.”
Blaming Ryan is a cop-out, said Jonah Goldberg in National Review.com. Trump proclaimed during the campaign that “it will be so easy” to get rid of Obamacare; his True Believers “insisted there was nothing he couldn’t do with his Jedi-like negotiating skills and gift for ‘winning.’” Now those same loyalists claim he was “tricked” by Ryan and “betrayed” by the Freedom Caucus. The truth is that Trump isn’t the “omnicompetent” miracle worker his fans thought he was.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the “utterly disgraceful” failure to repeal Obamacare, said Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner. Nearly every Republican has doggedly campaigned on that pledge through four election cycles—with great success. In stark contrast to Democrats, who spent 13 months painstakingly crafting and building support for the Affordable Care Act, Republicans “slapped together a bill in a few weeks,” then threw in the towel at the first setback. It’s a “pathetic abdication of duty.”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from Newscom, Alamy, Newscom