The latest iteration of Obamacare repeal has likely failed. Senate Republicans were unable to pass a watered-down repeal effort that offered states some meager level of federalism in the form of block grants. Now, we're again going to hear a lot of noise about the need to embrace a "bipartisan" approach to fix health care.
"Since nearly every promise we made with Obamacare has failed, you now have a responsibility to save it": To many, this might seem like a shamelessly counterintuitive thing to say, but it's very popular among Democrats. The problem is that any effort that further entrenches a wholly partisan law is not, in any genuine way, "bipartisan." And Republicans have zero reason to play along.
For the first time in American history, the party in power -- complete power, mind you -- is being asked to bail out the minority's signature failed reform. Not just any reform: Democrats unilaterally shoved through the system a wide-ranging national restructuring of a vital part of the economy. It was an effort that blew up dozens of governing norms and was built on a giant lie, a manipulated Congressional Budget Office score and a process that, outside a few Kabuki theater hearings and technical amendments, ignored half the country while coercing every citizen's participation. In fact, many of the people being asked to bail out Obamacare warned that Obamacare would need bailing out.
So what do conservatives gain in these "bipartisan" efforts -- I mean, other than the honor of saving Obamacare? Democrats have shown zero inclination to compromise on any substantive changes other than perhaps adding more spending or regulatory controls on consumer choice. Liberals have trillions of ideas on how to expand the welfare state, and not a single one on how to save people from it.
What makes this pretend "bipartisanship" even more off-putting is that most Republicans, including the president, can, either fully or in large part, thank the national movement that coalesced around opposition to the Affordable Care Act in 2010 for their careers and power. It wasn't merely a reaction to the bill -- which millions rightly saw as the first step in nationalizing care -- but the hyper-partisanship and leftward lurch of the party ramming it through.
A thousand or so seats later, Republicans have now reverted to form, trembling in the wake of some poor polling numbers and Jimmy Kimmel's sock puppetry. What did they expect was going to happen? Where are the voices offering compelling and passionate arguments for repeal? Where is the concerted effort from the GOP to speak for the tens of millions who suffer under Obamacare's spiking premiums and decreasing choices? It all seemed to dissipate when repeal became a possible reality.
Now, as then, Democrats were open to bipartisanship as long as others didn't bring any of their ideas along. The only compromise struck during negotiations over the Affordable Care Act was between needed moderate Democrats and leftist Democrats. Over the past eight years, those moderates have been purged from the party, and the folks most responsible for this disaster are still framing the contours of the debate.
If Democrats are unwilling to negotiate on truly bipartisan grounds, Republicans should hold tight. Donald Trump, who promised throughout his campaign to overturn Obamacare, could immediately put a deadline on the unconstitutional subsidy payments that the Obama administration concocted to keep the bill from imploding. Yes, liberals will continue to claim that conservatives are "sabotaging" the law, but there is no moral, policy or political reason for the GOP to continue the payoffs. No matter how many welfare dollars Congress ends up pouring into fabricated markets or how much price-fixing they engage in, the "exchanges" are unsustainable. Why would conservatives want to take ownership of those failures?
As the Senate stands now, it's improbable that Republicans will ever be able to cobble together a bill that will placate both the Susan Collins-John McCain wing and the Mike Lee-Rand Paul wing. In fact, I doubt Collins would vote for a single-payer bill if too many Republicans supported it. You may be rightly skeptical that repeal will ever pass. Yet it is not out of the question that help is on the way. Perhaps the GOP's positioning on health care reform will lead to midterm disaster. But we've heard this one before -- sometimes right before a GOP wave election. Fact is, the 2018 Senate map is still not favorable to Dems.
Liberals like to argue that allowing Obamacare to fail would bring a single-payer closer to reality. Well, it is just as likely that prolonging Obamacare's lifespan would help single-payer, as the next Democratic administration will surely continue to expand the reach of the law. (Unlike the GOP, Democrats don't shy away from incrementalism.) If Republicans truly believe Obamacare has harmed America, there is no upside in fake bipartisanship. Not for the GOP. And not for the American people.