What Does the Death of Obamacare Repeal (at least for now) Tell Us?


By MJ Lee CNN National Politics Reporter

If we can believe the clues, then the GOP’s determination to rip Obamacare out by the roots has come to naught … unless and until they try again, which we can never count out.  We can hope that the clues mean what they appear to mean.

Does it mean we are safe from their malign efforts?  Certainly not.  Complacency is not a thing here.  But it does suggest that they are going to have a harder time than we feared of building their Randian paradise.  There are forces available that can push back against the worst of their intentions.

It’s been agonizingly hard and slow, but some elements of the GOP are actually starting to stand up to the madman in the White House.  And some of the contradictions built in to the GOP’s empty, fevered opposition to everything Democratic are beginning to come to the surface now that they have to try to create something.

There’s good analysis of the health care votes in this podcast from Nate Silver and friends.  It’s worth your 24 minutes:

Trump of course continues to make his clueless, malevolent threats to withhold the Cost-Sharing Reductions (“reimbursements for insurers who sign up disproportionate numbers of low-income customers”), and may do further damage along the way, but…

…members of both parties in Congress have expressed strong support for keeping up the payments. Democrats don’t want to harm patients and the operation of a system they care about a lot, and Republicans don’t want to suffer the political blowback from premium spikes under their watch when they have promised lower premiums. Both parties are negotiating bills to ensure the payments are made. [ Jonathan Chait ]

Elizabeth Drew draws out some of the larger lessons and provides a dramatic narrative at the NYRB.

While the majority party in Congress having one of its own in the White House presumably gives it a tremendous advantage in legislative struggles Trump’s participation in the health care fight if anything made things worse. During the House debate this spring, Trump held meetings with members at the White House and tried to persuade reluctant ones, but it turned out that he was also an easy mark. (This was much noticed about Trump at the time and later it showed up in some of his foreign dealings.) Trump sometimes made offers to congressmen that mucked up the Republican leadership strategy. It was evident that the president didn’t much care what the bill contained: he just wanted to sign one. It quickly also became clear to Republican legislators that the president was unfamiliar with the details and evinced little interest in learning them. Word of this spread quickly. Trump is the least informed president in modern history.

After the House bill passed in early May, a buoyant Trump led a celebration of House Republicans, who were bussed to the White House for the event—a scene that may well turn up in Democrats’ ads in the future. (“Hey, I’m President!” the triumphant Trump exclaimed.) But soon after that he threw away a large amount of this bonhomie by saying he thought the House bill was “mean.” There’s no more effective way for a president to make his party’s politicians wary of casting any risky votes out of so-called loyalty. When in June it came time for the Senate to take up the health care legislation, McConnell asked the president to please stay out of it. With the exception of a few misfiring tweets and a White House lunch with Republican senators this suited Trump fine; aides said he’d become “bored” dealing with the legislation. Governing doesn’t interest him.

…The biggest loser of the fight was of course Donald Trump, who now has little besides his executive orders (and of course his one Supreme Court appointment) to show for his record so far. And so Congress prepared to recess for August with many of its members as well as political observers concerned that Trump might create chaos by trying to stamp out the Russia investigation, and nervously wondering how the tempestuous president’s fractured and faltering administration, even with a new chief of staff, would perform in an international crisis.

And Jonathan Chait suggests that governing really is harder than opposing, that the GOP, having organized themselves for generations now around encouraging and harvesting resentment, may actually be incapable of locating the accelerator when they find themselves accidentally thrust into the driver’s seat, and that Obama’s legacy is far more robust than the incoming Trumpians thought (and more so than many of us feared – because it was built with care and foresight, and achieved things that people wanted) (Emphasis added.):

The most important reason so many people overestimated the ease with which Trump would overrun the Obama legacy is that they failed to grasp its breadth and depth, the degree to which its roots spread and its reforms took hold. Trump’s struggles to knock down Obama’s work have served to reveal how solidly it was constructed.

For eight years, Republicans drove themselves into a fever-pitch hysteria against the Affordable Care Act without bothering to learn how the law worked. Working from the premise that Obamacare was a uniquely ill-designed law — death panels! train wrecks! — they easily persuaded themselves and much of the country that Republicans could write something vastly better.

Half a year of Republican-run government has systematically exposed the right-wing arguments against Obamacare as bad-faith rhetoric or outright fantasy. One small-business owner, who told the New York Times in 2012 that he opposed the law as something jammed down the public’s throat, was re-interviewed this year. “I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” he now says.

It is not surprising that only this year did the Affordable Care Act become popular. The law’s unpopularity depended entirely on the existence of an imaginary alternative that was free of trade-offs. The populist fallacy that everybody can get better insurance for less money if only the government wasn’t run by morons is seductive. Obama’s wonkish explanations could not expose the fallacy’s hollowness. But the Republicans in power have proven excellent (if inadvertent) tutors.

Indeed, some of the most important subjects of the lesson have been the members of the governing party themselves, many of whom never bothered to grapple with the policy before. The Republicans have spent the year desperately trying to pass a repeal, even in the face of staggering public disapproval for their efforts, because they cannot admit their entire case against Obamacare has been built on a lie. “They can’t accept they’ve been promising something that is undeliverable and a bad idea for seven years,” a “well-connected former Republican aide” told a reporter.

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