GOP Might Be Fracturing On Obamacare Repeal And Replace

To say that the Republican Party’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has not gone smoothly is an understatement. By taking charge of the Oval Office and both houses of Congress, the GOP initially thought that striking down Obamacare would be a slam dunk. Unfortunately for conservatives, the self-congratulatory mirth of January 20 has quickly waned.

As the GOP has learned, it’s much harder to govern than to play the troll. For years, Republicans battered Obamacare at every turn, criticizing its high insurance premiums, difficult subsidies, and limits on which medical providers could be seen by patients. Exasperated, then-president Barack Obama challenged Republicans to craft better healthcare policy.

Tellingly, Republican leaders had no policy-based response. While conservatives actively praised free market principles and spoke about the need for medical patients to have “options” and “control,” nobody on the right side of the political spectrum revealed anything resembling a comprehensive health care plan.  That was then… and today is little different.

Apparently, there is a Republican healthcare plan out there. The only problem?  It’s under wraps, and even arch-conservative Rand Paul, the outspoken U.S. Senator (R-KY) and 2016 presidential candidate, can’t find it. In a brouhaha that left liberals smiling, Paul went over to the House of Representatives and demanded to see the GOP’s Obamacare-replacement bill… and was denied. Paul and many Democrats have publicly criticized House Republicans for working on the bill in secret and refusing to reveal any drafts.

Through leaked drafts, it seems that GOP wonks have still yet to find the “sweet spot” that will appeal to both conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans. Although the Republican Party as a whole does control both the House and Senate, it is almost guaranteed that any Obamacare replacement bill will receive zero Democratic votes, meaning that any Republican defections in either house of Congress could be catastrophic. 

With scores of Republican legislators working around the clock in Congress to improve the secretive bill, it seems that president Trump was totally correct in asserting that healthcare reform is complicated.

Time is of the essence, and each week that drags on without an Obamacare replacement bill sees the GOP lose momentum on that key policy pillar. If Republicans cannot advance such a bill, they will be mocked mercilessly in the 2018 midterms for being able to talk the talk, but not walk the walk.  Already, Trump’s controversial comments about healthcare reform being unexpectedly complex make his party seem naïve and unprepared. 

In more than seven years of trash-talking, was no Republican team able to craft a comprehensive substitute for Obamacare? Frankly, Donald Trump’s team should have had a repeal-and-replace plan ready to go on day one, distributed to all congressional Republicans via flash drive. While Democrats have held their tongue, obviously waiting to see if the GOP’s healthcare plans will implode on their own, the silence won’t last long.

With the ongoing Sessions/Russia debacle erasing most of the political gains from Trump’s unexpectedly-polished speech to a joint session of Congress, the GOP needs to notch another win quickly. Unfortunately, things aren’t looking good: Even before Paul’s made-for-TV storming of the House, Republicans in Congress were facing tremendous frustration over the Obamacare repeal.

Constituents in Republican districts have been defending Obamacare with unexpected vigor, and the oft-controversial healthcare law is actually more popular than ever before. Currently, it is very likely that at least a handful of Republicans will refuse to vote for any revealed Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill.  They will break with their party to protect their own re-election chances, but they will justify it by referring to any of several excuses depending on their brand of conservatism. 

Ardent conservatives will complain that the replacement bill is too liberal, amounting to entitlement spending, while moderate Republicans will claim that the bill provides insufficient coverage for citizens.  Such complaints about Obamacare also plagued liberals: Supporters of democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders argued that Obamacare provided insufficient support for citizens, while blue dog Democrats initially thought that Obamacare was too socialist.

A replacement has to be thought better than the original in order to pass muster. If the GOP didn’t have any comprehensive healthcare plan prior to January, it is almost impossible for them to hope of crafting something that will be considered better than Obamacare within the next few weeks. Time is not on their side, and neither is the general industrialized nation consensus on healthcare policy, which favors single-payer healthcare over privatized. 

Republicans are working against the clock and against the conventional wisdom of everyone from Canada to Japan to Australia.

If Donald Trump and his friends in Congress cannot unveil a comprehensive Obamacare repeal-and-replace substitute by Spring Break, look for Democrats to begin breaking their relative silence and insisting that the GOP can’t fix what ain’t truly broken. A unified voice of opposition, consisting of the most prominent Democrats in Congress and state capitals, could shatter an already-fractured Republican coalition on healthcare reform.  For many Republicans, that may be their secret plan: What better way to win the 2020 GOP nomination over an embattled incumbent than by pointing out that he couldn’t even get rid of the bumbling failure of Obamacare?

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