The decision to pull the American Health Care Act from the House floor because it lacked enough votes to pass was a culmination of months of bad decisions, poor planning, and terrible messaging by the GOP leadership in the House. This failure undermines not only the party’s credibility, but President Trump’s purported ability to “make great deals.” Worse, it emboldens the left-wing “resistance.”
Back in early December, we warned in this space that the Republican’s ObamaCare repeal effort was “off to a bad start.” That was when House Speaker Paul Ryan was talking up a “repeal and delay” plan that would have repealed pieces of ObamaCare while putting off a replacement plan for a couple years.
“This is a huge opportunity for Republicans to show that they can tackle the health care issue in a way that helps, not hurts, the working class,” we wrote. “But it will require a concrete plan of action and the determination to stick with it. Something that, surprisingly, Republicans still seem to lack.”
In the months following, things didn’t improve much. Ryan’s team repeatedly fumbled the ball, diluted the free-market message they should have been selling, and lost sight of the point of repealing ObamaCare — which was to bring down insurance costs for millions of middle class families who’ve seen their premiums skyrocket and their benefits diminish under ObamaCare.
The culmination of all this was a misbegotten bill that was far less free-market than Ryan’s “Better Way” blueprint issued over the summer, and that kept in place the very regulations and mandates that were causing ObamaCare to fail in the first place.
Having accepted the core premise of ObamaCare — that health insurance is a right that should be guaranteed by the federal government — the House bill ended up, by necessity, recreating various other pieces of ObamaCare as well.
ObamaCare’s income-based subsidies became age-based tax credits that were phased out at higher incomes. The individual-mandate tax penalty became a premium surcharge. The minimum benefits rules remained. The House even presented a watered-down fix for Medicaid.
No doubt some Republicans will point the finger of blame for the failure of this bill at conservatives in the House. But it was only because of their efforts that Ryan agreed to nudge the bill to the right. The problem was that Ryan thought he could push a watered-down replacement bill through the House without first making sure that he’d nailed down conservative support.
Trump told The New York Times after the bill got pulld from the floor House that Democrats would seek a deal within a year when “ObamaCare explodes” because of higher premiums.
Trump, the Times says, “did not fault Mr. Ryan and said that he was pleased to move past his first legislative fight.”
We’d agree with parts of that statement. ObamaCare is, as Trump says, unsustainable, and Democrats will be blamed. But keeping its taxes, mandates and regulations in place in the hopes that it becomes so unbearable that even Democrats will talk about replacing it isn’t much of a consolation prize.
We’d also agree with Trump that, at this point, it’s time to move on to tax reform. Cutting and simplifying taxes is a must-do item on Trump’s agenda, and arguably should have been done before trying to tackle ObamaCare.
But we disagree with Trump that Ryan isn’t at fault. If Ryan isn’t to blame for this epic screw-up, who is?