GOP’s ‘repeal and replace’ bill dies
Senate Republicans all but abandoned their attempts to overhaul the nation’s health-care system this week after a lastditch effort to repeal Obamacare collapsed in disarray, dealing a major blow to President Trump’s legislative agenda. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had originally intended to hold a vote on the GOP’s health-care bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act—but was forced to abandon the legislation after four Republican senators came out against it, leaving him at least two votes short of the necessary 50. McConnell moved to a fallback plan to vote to abolish major parts of the Affordable Care Act in two years without an immediate replacement, but that effort also sank when three moderate Republican senators pledged to oppose it, saying it would irresponsibly cause chaos on the insurance exchanges offering individual policies. “I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” said Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the defecting Republicans. McConnell said he would still schedule a procedural vote on the repeal-alone plan “early next week,” though he conceded it was unlikely to pass. “It’s pretty obvious we’ve had difficulty getting 50 votes,” McConnell said.
Trump said he was “disappointed” with his party’s failure to repeal Obamacare, and at a White House lunch for all 52 Republican senators, he pressed them to pass “an even better” health-care bill before the August recess. “Inaction is not an option,” said Trump. If Republicans were unable to revive their repeal-and-replace legislation, he said, he would “let Obamacare fail” and blame Democrats for refusing to work with Republicans on a replacement. “I’m not going to own it,” he said.
McConnell pushed back against that strategy, saying that Republicans might have to work with Democrats to shore up Obamacare’s insurance markets, which in some rural states have seen an exodus of insurers and rising premiums. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for a joint effort to provide bigger subsidies, lower premiums, and lure back insurers. “The door to bipartisanship is open now,” said Schumer. “Republicans only need to walk through it.”
What the editorials said
The GOP’s self-inflicted health-care fiasco “is one of the great political failures in recent U.S. history,” said The Wall Street Journal. Republicans campaigned for years on undoing President Obama’s ill-advised signature health-care policy. Now they finally have a majority in the House and Senate and “a president willing to sign literally any bill that lands on his desk, but in the clutch they choked.” If Republicans can’t fulfill their basic promises, why should voters elect them?
The GOP’s assault on Obamacare is over—“as least for now,” said TheNew York Times. But Trump’s petulant promise to sabotage the ACA could do great damage to millions of Americans who depend on it. Nearly 40 U.S. counties are already at risk of having no insurers in the marketplaces next year. If the Trump administration carries out its threat to stop providing subsidies to insurers, premiums will surge and a death spiral in those states will begin. The only “humane” option is for Republicans and Democrats to “work together to fix the marketplace.”
What the columnists said
If Obamacare repeal is dead, blame “Trump’s malpractice,” said Quin Hillyer in the Washington Examiner. The president “never came close to learning even the broad details” of health-care reform, constantly undermined other Republicans, and contradicted himself on what he favored, at one point labeling the House version of the replacement bill “mean.” Now, he is proposing political suicide by insisting the GOP—the party in power—should do nothing as individual insurance markets collapse. “Trump has repeatedly broken his core campaign promise,” said Philip Bump in The Washington Post. The real estate mogul rode to the White House on a simple pledge: “I am a dealmaker,” promised Trump, “and I will make deals.” Yet in six months, he hasn’t secured a single major legislative accomplishment, and spent the last crucial week of Senate negotiations celebrating Bastille Day in France and golfing at his New Jersey club. Turns out Trump “was just another politician, making promises he couldn’t keep.”
This defeat shows that “conservatism is in retreat,” said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. Republicans never made a strong free-market case for Obamacare repeal—arguing, for example, that requiring businesses to offer health insurance “stunts growth,” or that soaring “public spending on health care crowds out necessary resources for other priorities.” Instead, Republicans pretended that “more people would be covered as a result of the GOP’s reform,” which was not true and not the goal of their efforts. They got “trapped into playing the opposition’s game”—and lost.
“The larger lesson of this sorry episode,” said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com, is that today’s Republican Party faces some serious “contradictions.” Once the arm “of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs,” the GOP now relies on the votes of middle-class and working-class voters—many of whom are beneficiaries of federal programs such as Obamacare and Medicaid. “But the GOP remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors,” who hate being taxed to help pay for public benefits for the poor and middle class. Republicans are torn between the interests of small-government conservatives and those of their working-class base. “They are now paying the price.” ■