As if trapped in a time loop, Republicans yet again pulled their Obamacare repeal bill after—yet again—failing to come up with the votes to pass it out of the House:
“An 11th-hour White House push to give President Trump a major legislative victory in his first 100 days in office broke down late Thursday as House Republican leaders failed to round up enough votes for their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
There is no mystery here: no matter how much they try to tweak their bill, there is no congressional majority to eliminate Obamacare’s coverage gains. There is no majority in the House, and certainly not in the Senate.
The relentless push to repeal Obamacare that became party dogma in opposition has deflated under the reckoning of governance. The puritanical faction of Republican true-believers that would follow through on the bluster of opposition simply does not constitute the majority needed to pass laws.
That’s because the core question is whether government will backtrack from its commitment to ensuring decent, affordable healthcare for everyone. Another way of putting it is whether government will abandon the principle that those with the misfortune of illness are not second-class citizens and are entitled to security in health and wellbeing just like everyone else.
Stripped of its wonkery (of which I am happy to indulge), that’s what this debate comes down to. The House’s first repeal attempt fell apart because it would have buried the poor and sick with outrageous new costs and thrown them off their insurance. Its newest attempt faltered because it would subject Obamacare’s protections for the sick to a veto by the states, segregating some people with costly illnesses into theoretically (but not really) separate-but-equal insurance pools.
Republicans have not yet mustered the blind political might to execute either act of cruelty. Enough of their party has hesitated in the face of retreating from the government’s duty to protect the sick. Indeed, reports suggest that as many as 50 House Republicans secretly do not want any part of Obamacare repeal.
Which is not to say that the so-called moderates are eager Obamacare supporters. When Obama’s veto shielded them from political responsibility—that is, before the GOP was firing “live rounds”—House Republicans passed bill after bill repealing Obamacare. This empty gesture amounted to a statement of the ideological preferences of the moderates—a philosophical opposition to the idea of government guaranteeing healthcare.
But reality has asserted itself now that Republicans are in the seat of power. Obamacare’s endurance comes from its fundamental principle that healthcare is a right. It shifted the baseline on how our healthcare system operates, and shifted political dynamics accordingly. These new political dynamics are what the GOP willfully didn’t see coming—and what are now coming home to roost, eroding the legislative muscle behind rescinding Obama’s greatest achievement.
One must wonder what the whole point of this latest exercise in futility was. Why go through the doomed charade of negotiations between the House Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group given the raw math facing repeal? Was it to pin blame on the moderates? On the Senate? For Paul Ryan—who a month ago admitted that “Obamacare is the law of the land”— and the House leadership to pass the buck to the rest of their caucus? To throw a Hail Mary attempt to give Donald Trump the semblance of an achievement within his first 100 days in office?
Probably some combination of the above. But whatever it was, the bigger mystery is just how many times Republicans will fall on their face before coming to terms with their unthinkable: that Obamacare is here to stay.