WASHINGTON - “It ain’t over till it’s over,” Yogi Berra said in his famous aphorism about losing.
And that may eventually apply to the Republicans’ failed attempt to “repeal and replace” President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
But don’t bet on it happening anytime soon. Unless the Senate bill is dramatically revised to satisfy the complaints of four or more Republican senators, the centerpiece of the GOP’s domestic agenda is likely dead for this year and, maybe, in 2018, too.
It was a devastating setback for President Trump who relentlessly campaigned last year for its repeal, telling voters it would be relatively easy to do.
“Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced… and that’s gonna take place immediately after we go in. Okay? Immediately. Fast. Quick.”
But after being sworn into office, other things got in the way of keeping that promise. Neither Trump nor his high command were fully engaged in the legislative details, let alone the shifting back room negotiations.
One reason is that it’s a very difficult subject to master. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” he said last February.
Compare Trump’s laid back mishandling of this high level issue to Ronald Reagan’s nonstop, coast-to-coast crusade to enact his sweeping, across-the-board tax cut plan to pull Jimmy Carter’s economy out of a recession. And in a Democratic-controlled House, to boot.
One remark served as a testament to how out of touch Trump was in the final days before Senate Republican leaders threw up their hands in the face of certain defeat, after two more GOP senators announced their opposition:
“I was very surprised when the two folks came out last night. We thought they were in fairly good shape,” he said of the defections.
So it was a very angry Trump who went before the cameras Tuesday, saying he was ready to “let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us” to fix it.
Insisting that he was not responsible for the bill’s defeat, Trump repeatedly said “We’re not going own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.”
But by Wednesday he had a sudden change of heart, and summoned Republican senators to the White House, lecturing them that they must not leave town for the usual August recess until they put an Obamacare repeal bill on his desk.
“People are hurting,” he said. “Inaction is not an option, and frankly I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan” passed by Congress.
This is a critical moment in his young presidency and a test of his leadership at a time when his agenda is in deep trouble on Capitol Hill, his approval polls have plunged to 36 percent, down from 42 percent in April, and he’s being investigated by a Justice Department special counsel, and an army of agents digging into the Russian collusion scandal.
At least half a dozen House and Senate committees are conducting investigations of their own, some of which will begin taking testimony next week.
Meantime, other pieces of Trump's agenda are being watered down as a result of pleas from the business community and Republicans in Congress who say employers in their states and districts can’t find enough laborers to fill thousands of job openings.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that it has given its approval to increase 15,000 temporary visas for lower wage, seasonal workers from abroad, despite Trump’s pledge to reduce immigration to boost jobs for Americans.
The increase is a 45 percent hike in the number of H-2B visas for the second half of this fiscal year, according to Homeland Security officials.
The action will fill jobs in hospitality, fishery, seafood processing, landscaping, construction and other industries, but not farm workers.
The visa increase “could be the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mike Hutt, executive director of the Virginia Marine Products Board. “But here we are in July, and some of these companies still don’t have workers.”
An even bigger issue that needs fixing is weakening economic growth which continues to limp along at less than 2 percent.
The cure for that ailment is across-the-board tax cuts, but Republicans have put that on the back burner and Trump rarely mentions it in his speeches or his tweets.
The better strategy to revitalize Trump’s presidency, and boost GOP prospects in the 2018 midterm elections is to lay health care aside for the time being, and make tax cuts the pending business in Congress.
That would send the economy soaring and put Trump on the road to making America great again.