The Obamacare challenge for Republicans


For years, Republicans made political hay by dissing Obamacare. It was an easy target. It converted millions of Americans from uninsured to insured, but not as many as promised, and the costs were high, as were all medical costs for all plans. Best of all, no one had to be specific about what to do instead. One simply said, something must be done.

That changed when the GOP unexpectedly took the White House while holding onto both houses of Congress. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell puts it, suddenly they were in the results business. On House side, where the Constitution requires budget bills to start, Republicans looked to their speaker and self-proclaimed budget wonk, Paul Ryan. Surely, if Obamacare were that bad, anything he came up with would be at least a little bit better.

Instead, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, led by a former Bush administration official, issued an analysis that makes the cure look worse than the disease. It projects the new plan will throw 24 million Americans onto the ranks of the uninsured, including 18 million the first year. It predicts the plan will place health insurance beyond the means of about a fifth of America’s non-elderly population. And it confirms that the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations will run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

In fairness to Congressional Republicans, it’s early days: the plan has yet to be voted on by either house. It has only been approved by two House committees. There is time and opportunity to modify the plan to make it better. And it’s in the interest of House Republicans especially to make it better, so they run on it in 2018; otherwise, if it’s a debacle, their opponents will run on it.

Self-preservation is harder than it looks, though.

The¬†American Action Network today is launching a $1.5 million ad campaign for the plan. It repeats the mantra that Obamacare has failed and will only get worse. It refers to “strong conservative solutions” without any details.¬†But the really interesting thing about the commercials is where they’ll run. Look for them in 15 Congressional districts represented by Republicans who are not considered sure votes. Like San Diego, where Darryl Issa says he won’t vote for the plan in its current form. The purpose of this campaign is to keep Republicans in line with the plan already drafted.

President Trump has said in the past he won’t support any plan that increases the number of Americans who are uninsured, so maybe he’ll push for modifications. But he has his own political issue. Whatever happens, he wants to avoid having people call the plan Trumpcare. His people have already told media writers it’s not Trumpcare so don’t call it that. In order to lessen the chance of that nickname catching on, he has to avoid being seen to touch the plan too much.

Really partisan Democrats must be hoping that Republicans DO stay in line, passing something that turns out to be even worse than Obamacare, because if the CBO is right the ill-effects will be apparent rapidly, before the mid-term House campaigns. But the short timeline to the mid-terms is why the House leaders want to move fast: they have a solid majority now, but who knows what the future brings?


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