Not So Fast: Are Republicans Reviving Their 'Dead' Obamacare Repeal Push?

Posted: Jul 31, 2017 10:30 AM
Not So Fast: Are Republicans Reviving Their 'Dead' Obamacare Repeal Push?

With ugly recriminations underway following their humiliating failure to pass any legislation that would even approach fulfilling a years-long parade of campaign promises to repeal and replace Democrats' failing healthcare law, Republicans are pondering their next move.  There are many within the party who say the Congressional GOP cannot simply walk away from this effort and move onto other agenda items -- the policy priority is too urgent, the pledges were too fundamental, and the opportunity of united government is too fleetingly precious.  On his way out the door, erstwhile White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told CNN that he doesn't believe the repeal push is over, as lawmakers on both ends of Capitol Hill are openly discussing options to mount another run at this endeavor:

Trump, increasingly impatient with the long-stalled repeal effort, met with three Senate Republicans about a new plan to roll back the health care law on Friday, signaling some lawmakers — as well as the president — are not ready to ditch their seven-year campaign promise. The group is trying to write legislation that could get 50 Republican votes, according to multiple administration and Capitol Hill sources. The proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would block grant federal health care funding to the states and keep much of Obamacare’s tax regime. White House officials also met with House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to brainstorm how to make the idea palatable to conservatives, according to two sources familiar with the meeting...The South Carolina senator has been talking to Meadows about the bill as a possible way forward that both chambers could accept. Several GOP governors have signaled interest to Graham for the bill as a way to keep funding levels steady and give states more control. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is also monitoring those conversations, a Republican aide said. “We’re going to regroup and stay focused,” Meadows said Friday. “I’m still optimistic that we will have another motion to proceed, and ultimately put something on the president’s desk.”

After meting out heaping portions of blame, the editors of National Review outline a number of possible paths ahead, ranging from taking another crack at a revised skinny bill, to bipartisanship, to "let it burn."  Their focus is on door number one:

Option one would be another slim bill. This one would abolish the fines but also take some steps to keep its abolition from raising premiums. Earlier Republican bills have coupled abolition with such steps. Insurers could be allowed to offer bigger discounts to young people. People who leave the market and then want to come back could be made to wait a few months before becoming eligible for any federal assistance — thereby encouraging them to stay insured. And insurers could be given some subsidies to ensure the orderly working of the market. That last step would provoke some grumbling from Senate conservatives; we’re saying it through gritted teeth ourselves. They might be willing to support it, though, if the bill also includes spending cuts. The original Senate bill included reforms to Medicaid that would restrain spending. Some Republican senators balked at it. Would 50 of them be willing to support a watered-down version of those reforms? They should be asked, in a process that involves committee hearings. The Senate parliamentarian would be another obstacle. She has indicated that it would take 60 votes to let insurers offer cheaper policies to the young and to delay tax credits for people returning to the market. On both of these technical points, a majority of senators would have to be willing to overrule her.

Given the party's enormous struggle to muster 50 upper chamber votes for any GOP-negotiated compromise, I'm not sure it's realistic to expect a beefier version of the just-defeated narrow bill to succeed, especially if it requires already-uncooperative moderates to sign up for overriding reconciliation-related rulings from the Senate parliamentarian. I'm not even sure conservatives would go along with that plan, considering the troubling precedent it risks setting. The editorial is right to note that most of Democrats' stated ideas for a "compromise" should be treated as nonstarters by Republicans. And simply allowing the existing law to keep crashing, then blaming Democrats, and using the resulting upheaval to revisit repeal is a flawed strategy for two reasons: First, it's a deeply irresponsible approach to governance. Republicans vowed to fix a worsening problem, riding that pledge to multiple electoral victories. Abandoning Obamacare's expanding pool of victims would be a terrible betrayal.

Second, blaming the Democrats for their imploding scheme worked for a number of years, but now Republicans are in full control of the federal government. Pointing fingers at the other party in the face of their own inability to act won't fly. Like it or not, Republicans now co-own the healthcare mess. I doubt voters will be especially forgiving of a party that whines and blame-storms after demonstrating a total lack of capacity to solve the problem they said the would.  Therefore, conservative healthcare policy expert Avik Roy is justified in concluding that pressing ahead on healthcare reform is non-optional for the GOP.  If they do, they'll need to do a much, much better job of understanding and refuting misinformation about their proposals -- which is hard to do when their focus is whipping votes:

The points about millions "losing" their coverage under the GOP bill, and "eliminating" Medicaid expansion are familiar to Townhall readers.  They were much less familiar to average voters -- and even to a number of influential Republican Senators, it would seem.  Another view, one held by Susan Collins and John McCain, is that a bill ought to be shaped through regular order -- forming in committee, undergoing cross-aisle scrutiny, debate, and votes.  This may be where the process is headed, but without pro-reform bright red lines from the moderates who killed "skinny repeal," Democrats have the leverage.  Their proposals to "fix" the troubled law that they crafted and jammed through are not improvements.  And in case you'd forgotten, they've been wrong about Obamacare all along:

The White House is signaling that no other legislative priorities will be allowed to supersede healthcare, which pours cold water on the 'cut our losses and move on' strategy being espoused by some Republican strategists: 

Parting thought: If GOP leaders are priming the pump to embark upon a major tax overhaul -- including big dollars being readied on the effort's behalf -- does that mean that in spite of some hopeful healthcare rhetoric, the real plan is to turn the page to tax reform?

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