Why Republicans Are Failing on Their Plans to Repeal Obamacare

Last night five Republican Senators authored an amendment to delay their party’s plan to repeal Obamacare without a replacement.

After publicly airing some of their grievances with the GOP’s current strategy of repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan, a handful of Republican senators put their concerns in legislative writing. Five senators on Monday evening introduced a measure that would delay the next steps on repealing the Affordable Care Act by more than a month. The senators, in their statements accompanying the provision, said the delay would buy Congress more time to work out of the the details of a replacement.

“This amendment will ensure that we move forward with a smart, responsible plan to replace the law as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in a statement announcing the measure. He was joined by Bob Corker (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in introducing the proposal.

Huffington Post puts the overall tally of Senators who have spoken out against repeal without replacement at nine – with a few others who are dissenting for different reasons.

Meanwhile, members of the House Freedom Caucus are echoing the need to slow down the process. Their concern is slightly different though. Due to their focus on balancing the federal budget, they are not keen to pass the upcoming budget resolution without a look at what comes next.

When it comes to what the American public is saying, Politico released a poll this morning that confirms what a Kaiser Family poll found last week.

Only 28 percent of voters say the law should be repealed “even if there is no current plan for replacing” it. Fully 61 percent say the law “should not be repealed until there is a new plan for replacing the law.”

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the whole plan to repeal and delay a replacement for Obamacare is in a lot of trouble right now. If Republicans were wise, they would learn something by reviewing how they got here.

Let’s go all the way back to 2009 when President Obama and Democrats were working on a plan for health care reform. It’s helpful to remember that then-Senator Jim DeMint articulated what Republicans had in mind with their opposition.

“If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” he said.

They weren’t able to stop him. Obamacare was eventually passed with zero Republican support. But in fanning the flames for their obstruction, they were able to rouse their base of supporters into thinking that this law posed a great threat to their freedom and the American way of life. Over the next seven years, Republicans continued their rhetoric in opposition, passing multitudes of bills to repeal Obamacare in the House once they gained a majority – knowing that it would be vetoed by President Obama. They even shut the government down temporarily in 2013 in an attempt to defund Obamacare.

The Republican candidate for president in 2016 joined this chorus by promising to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific.” With Trump’s election and a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, it was finally time to keep the promise they’d been making all these years.

The problem was that, after years of promising to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, there was no consensus in Republican ranks about the replacement plan (nor was there much expectation that they would come up with something better). So the plan became to repeal Obamacare right away and delay its implementation until they could come up with a replacement.

That opened up a whole can of worms. There was a lot of disagreement over how long to delay the implementation and, as that was being discussed, insurance companies noted that they’d need some kickbacks to keep the whole thing going in the meantime. While that was happening, some Republicans — including President-elect Trump — began to make promises that they’d keep the parts of Obamacare that were particularly popular, like the ban on refusing coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Those promises make a “better” replacement pretty much impossible.

As all that was being discussed, Republicans began to make some more promises – like the assurance that no one would be worse off under their replacement. As conservative Phillip Klein wrote, that might have been a fatal moment.

Republicans are in serious danger of repeating Obama’s mistake, because they are having a tough time stating a simple truth, which goes something like this: “We don’t believe that it is the job of the federal government to guarantee that everybody has health insurance.”

Meanwhile, one Republican Senator blew the whistle on the meaninglessness of all those previous votes to repeal Obamacare.

A Republican senator on condition of anonymity said the details of the repeal bill remain very uncertain. Originally, Republicans were planning to simply bring back the bill they put on Obama’s desk last year for his veto.

But that bill was written knowing it wouldn’t become law, and now some Republicans want to make tweaks to soften the blow of repeal.

“Even people who voted for this before are, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, we knew that wasn’t going to happen,’” said the senator. “There were no consequences.” He said there’s a growing sense among some of his colleagues that they need to have a replacement for Obamacare ready soon “because we’re going to own this.”

All of this points to the real culprit: for too long the Republicans have been the party that doesn’t care about governing. Their strategies and messaging have been built around the use of obstruction while in the minority. Now that they control both Congress and the presidency, they are going to get a tutorial on Governing 101. To succeed would mean putting forward legislation that addresses the interests of everyone in their caucus – from Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to the House Freedom Caucus. It would also mean coming up with pragmatic ideas that actually work for Americans – especially on something as important as health care.

I’m not a betting person, but I wouldn’t put much money on either of those happening.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly and frequently blogs at Political Animal.