The Obamacare fiasco reveals that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to deliver on their promises
What would you conclude if you voted for a candidate or a party because of a promise to repeal or change a law that you strongly felt was harmful and unjust, but once in office the party refused to do it? You might conclude, rightly, that those politicians didnt really work for you, and the party didnt care what you thought.
Thats precisely the message Republicans have been sending their constituents throughout the Obamacare repeal fiasco. The failure of Senate Republicans to pass a so-called skinny repeal in the early hours of Friday is merely the latest instance of GOP fecklessness on health care reform.
Even the attempt at skinny repeal was a tacit admission that Republican lawmakers were never serious about repealing Obamacare. After failing to get enough GOP votes for a repeal and replace bill and then failing earlier this week to pass a straight repeal bill, the skinny repeal bill was a cowardly attempt to make it seem like they had exhausted all options.
But the Senate bill that failed on Friday morning wouldnt have done much, repealing Obamacares individual and employer mandates, a tax on medical devices, and a handful of marginal items but leaving the rest of the laws vast and deleterious regulations in place. On its own, it would have done more harm than good, sending already rising premiums up another 20%, hastening the collapse of the individual health insurance market, and shifting the entire healthcare debate from the Senate floor to a closed-door conference committee where the details of the bill would be worked out in secret.
Yet whatever harm skinny repeal might have done to health insurance markets pales in comparison with the harm congressional Republicans have already done to themselves. Unwilling to take the political heat of repealing and replacing Obamacare as they promised, Republicans are in effect enshrining Barack Obamas signature legislative achievement and making it their own. The most likely scenario now is that Congress will, at the behest of panicked insurers, pass legislation to shore up failing insurance exchanges. In other words, Republicans will save Obamacare.
For seven years, Republicans have campaigned on promises to repeal and replace Obamacare with a free-market health care system. They wrested control of the House and the Senate from Democrats on these promises. Donald Trump along with every other GOP presidential candidate campaigned on it last year. Republicans voted time and again for politicians that trumpeted their hatred of Obamacare and swore to do something about it.
You dont need a long memory to see why failing to repeal the law might enrage conservatives. As my colleague at the Federalist Chris Jacobs has noted, House Republicans even floated a version of skinny repeal in 2015. Conservative groups could have supported it just to keep the process moving, and continue the momentum for a broader repeal as leadership is asking them to do right now, wrote Jacobs.
But they didnt. Influential conservative groups such as Heritage Action came out against the plan, as did a group of conservative senators, saying the bill simply isnt good enough, and that because all of them had campaigned on fully repealing Obamacare, we owe our constituents nothing less.
Back then, repeal meant, at minimum, doing away with the major parts of Obamacare: Medicaid expansion, subsidies, all the new insurance rules and regulations and taxes that the law imposed on health insurers and ordinary Americans.
Of course, it was easy to make such statements in the fall of 2015. Barack Obama was never going to sign a repeal bill, skinny or not. In hindsight, the dozens of repeal votes from Republicans in both chambers seem now to be so much political grandstanding. Moderate Republican senators who voted for full repeal in 2015 hypocritically oppose it now, and conservative senators who opposed skinny repeal in 2015 supported it on Thursday. They are all guilty of the same rank hypocrisy.
There is a grave danger for Republicans in all of this. If theres one thing the 2016 presidential election should have taught the GOP establishment, its that Americans are disgusted with politics as usual the showboating, the sloganeering, the canned talking points and the pervasive, poisonous insincerity of it all.
Thats why Republican primary voters rejected, one by one, a field of presidential candidates full of experienced politicians. GOP voters were told their 2016 candidates were diverse and accomplished and indeed they were. But they all had one thing in common: they were politicians, and Americans were fed up with politicians and politics as usual. So fed up, in fact, they did something drastic, maybe even reckless. They elected Donald Trump president.
Now that the politicians have failed them yet again, and in such spectacular fashion, conservatives might conclude, with good reason, that theres no point voting for Republicans because they dont deliver on their promises once in power. They might conclude that Republicans, having failed to take seriously the discontent of ordinary Americans, dont deserve to govern after all.
The author is a senior correspondent for the Federalist