It’s Far From Over: Why The GOP Is On A Never-Ending Quest To Kill Obamacare
The American people seem to be stuck in some sort of horrible remake of Groundhog Day, but instead of watching a very flawed weatherman in the middle of re-examining his priorities, they’re watching Republicans hell bent on repealing the ACA try to do it again and again. Having apparently learned nothing from their last failed vote, they’re going to make one more run at an ACA repeal, which is also certain to kick millions of people off their plans if it passes. And you can be sure that if that too fails, they will be trying again after a few days of nursing their wounds.
Here’s the most bizarre element of this legislative Ouroboros, however; it’s not that the GOP is in love with its own bills. Few of the lawmakers behind them have anything to say about it other than it’s not Obamacare, while the proudly Obamacare-hating conservative commentariat loudly boos the fine details of their ideas from Twitter and TV. Near-universal consensus on all the Trumpcare plans seems to be “seven years of promises and this, this is the absolute best you can do?!”
It’s tempting to consider that if the U.S. had a parliamentary system, talks of votes of no confidence and new elections would be in the air. But that’s not the system we have because the founding fathers specifically did not want a series of snap elections to make governance impossible for years on end. So we watch as Republicans carry their wildly unpopular bills to the finish line, offering little more than weak spin about Democratic obstructionism. This rhetoric rings hollow after six months of using bipartisanship as a threat to ensure party unity at voting time.
So the obvious question here is why. Why keep trying to pass one version of a widely reviled set of reforms after another on a party line vote? Ostensibly, these are fairly intelligent people who are fully aware they’re trying to polish the proverbial pile of excrement in this partisan ritual. What’s driving them?
The most likely answer has three parts and none of them are good or have anything positive to say about the government with which we’ve ended up. Instead, it provides a textbook lesson in why populist regimes end up doing far more harm than good for the future.
1: They Over-promised And Under-delivered
The first reason the GOP is now stuck in an infinite loop of repeal attempts is, well, because they promised a repeal. Just like the conservative pundits all said, it’s been seven long years of Republicans swearing up and down that Obamacare was destroying the economy, despite plenty of evidence to show the opposite, and they could easily replace it with something shinier, newer, and better if given the chance. But it seems that they never actually thought about how to deliver on that promise, which is why they’re writing bills behind closed doors and on the fly before putting them to a vote.
Not only that, but they can’t even seem to agree how to repeal it and what role the government should even play in healthcare among themselves, a fundamental philosophical framework one would think should have been hammered out over all this time. Ousted former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pretty much admitted there was no actual repeal plan when the GOP was making its big promises, confirming the worst fears of those who were looking forward to the ACA’s demise.
They’re like a patient on the operating table who just found out that their doctors have no idea how to do a bypass and improvising with scalpels as they try to figure out where the heart valves actually are after making the initial incision. So it’s little wonder that the bills are getting between 24% and 16% approval. Even the people who want Obamacare gone know this isn’t the way to do it. But the Republicans promised, and they’re terrified their inability to deliver will mean primary challengers in 2018 with very solid shots at defeating them in their districts and states.
2: They’re Kowtowing To Trump And His Ultimatums
Exacerbating the GOP’s problem is Trump who’s being, well, Trump when confronted with a big setback. As he demonstrated time and time again, he doesn’t care or know anything about the issues, in the words of Republican lawmakers no less. He just wants a win and to crow that he defeated that horrible Obamacare nightmare, even if what it actually does is pretty damn popular and efforts to get rid of it are not. Trump’s ignorance of the topic is so dire he thinks millennials pay $12 a month for health insurance, an idea he may have gotten from misunderstanding Fox News commercials.
Maybe this is why he feels at ease extorting his party into ramming his win through Congress by threatening to stop payments to hospitals and insurers provided by the ACA to help them offer care and plans to more people. He’s in effect holding millions of lives hostage to get his way as he indulges in yet another one of his famous Twitter tantrums. This is not too dissimilar from a spoiled, vindictive toddler threatening to hold his breath if he doesn’t get the toy he wants. Except, in this case, his hands are on someone else’s windpipe and he’s threatening to hold their breath, not his.
So this is where we are. Republicans in Congress are under pressure to pass a bill, any bill, just to say they passed one despite loathing many aspects of it just so Trump can spike the football and take credit for “saving healthcare” and not berate them in another rabid tweet storm.
If there’s a worse way to tackle a fiendishly complex aspect of daily life that impacts a quarter of the economy and provides employment for well over 16 million people, guaranteed to produce deeply unsatisfactory, if not outright disastrous outcomes, it’s honestly hard to imagine it.
3: They Seem To Have Given Up On Actual Governance
And this leads us directly to the final reason we find ourselves trapped at the ACA Repeal kabuki theater. It genuinely appears that Congress is no longer legislating, but running with its tail between its legs from a temperamental wanna-be autocrat in constant search of adulation.
This isn’t governance, it’s chaos and negligence wrapped in the pretense of legislation and driven by a strain of toxic tribalism that views bipartisanship as an evil to be avoided at all costs rather than what it really is: the healthy, mature way to run things in a democracy where people will always disagree on something.
Over the last decade, the Republican base has been treated to a vicious and nonstop chant that anyone left of the Tea Party isn’t a fellow citizen whose opinions may be wrong, but a traitor to be destroyed, a non-American who has to be silenced. Working with the Democrats is not an option for anyone in the GOP because that would be tantamount to treason to their voters. In its electoral victory, the Republican Party is isolated and constantly fighting about whether its members are pure enough to remain Republicans. This is what will ultimately doom any of their efforts to reform healthcare.
You see, the ACA was supposed to be a start and even its staunchest fans will enthusiastically admit it needs work. Its biggest problem is that it was skin deep and only tried to address how we can afford healthcare, not figure out and change what we pay and why.
Every Republican plan is just as shallow, focusing only on who picks up the tab rather than why the tab is so high. If a healthcare reform bill doesn’t look at runaway pharma or medical device costs, as well as promote competition by importing approved drugs from other developed nations, we’ll be stuck where we are or end up worse off when and if it passes.
Why This Will All End In Tears
The only way we can fix healthcare is by working together as a nation and understanding that a magic bill that fixes everything will never appear from behind a closed door after being written by a group of lobbyists whose job is to look out only for their interests. Every single attempt Republicans made at reform so far, and their newest effort, shows they either don’t know this or refuse to understand it.
But they’ll keep trying to push yet another lazy reshuffling of failed or failing ideas because the leader of their party is screaming at them to do it, promising to hold all their voters hostage unless they pass something, anything, to appease their leader.
At this point, he’s even demanding an end to all normal state business until he gets what he wants. If Republicans actually listen, there’s a chance that Congress could be paralyzed until September and fail to pass bills required to avoid a government shutdown before the holidays.
Now, on top of all the problems we just outlined, the GOP would have to legislate with their backs against the wall and possibly bring D.C. to a halt all thanks to a tantrum on social media unless they refuse to go along with Trump. But that too is very likely to result in more ultimatums and more pressure on them because he didn’t get what he wants from his digital foot stomping.
And this is really one unique talent of Trump’s, to hijack anything, no matter what it is, and making it about himself. It’s fine in the world of reality TV or entertainment in general, in fact, that’s what builds your brand. But when it poisons a debate about the well-being of more than 320 million people, it’s going to have devastating consequences because we’re now dealing with real humans, not pseudo-fictional characters whose lives will continue after the cameras stop rolling or they get eliminated from the contest this week. And it’s a terrifying thought that the nation managed to elect someone incapable of understanding that to lead it.