Hopefully, by retracing the history of the last eight years, vis’ a vis’ the ACA (aka Obamacare), some lessons will be learned.
January 2009 – 2012
Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and promptly sets a legislative agenda that has as its’ top priority, the passage of a healthcare plan that will make this commodity available to more Americans while causing the cost of medical care to decrease. As the broad outlines of his plan become public, conservatives raise full throated Hell; i.e. “It’s socialism…a government takeover of the healthcare industry…a job killer and budget buster”. These attack lines so energized the nascent Tea Party that its’ members turned out in droves for the 2010 mid-term election and flipped the majority in the House to Republican control.
Coincidental to that electoral turn of events, the ACA had passed into law. Thereupon, the new Republican House majority began what was to become a familiar promise; i.e. “Repeal and Replace the Act”. That was followed by what was to eventually become a string of five dozen votes to achieve that end. Of course, with the Democrats still in control of the Senate and Obama in the Oval Office, that promise must be seen for what it was; i.e. an attempt to placate those conservative voters who wanted the ACA gone.
2012 – 2016
The national election in 2012 saw Obama returned to the White House, but the Democrats’ Senate majority turned over to Republicans. Now in control of both chambers of Congress, conservatives’ hope for the repeal of the ACA grew as Senate Republicans picked up the promise of their counterparts in the House. But, the very real threat of an Obama veto remained ever-present. This led conservatives to urge their voting faithful to turn the presidency over to a Republican and there will be nothing to stop the repeal that you so earnestly want.
Trump’s election is taken by conservatives in and out of government as a dream come true, especially insofar as keeping the “Repeal and replace” promise. That guarantee had already been pumped up by candidate Trump who not only committed himself to an immediate repeal, but a replacement that will be “easy”, cover “everyone”, be “beautiful” and “cost less”. As you can imagine, conservatives’ hopes were now at stratospheric heights. After all, the eminently successful, billionaire, autocratic businessman was going to make it happen.
In both the House and the Senate, there was no question that the votes to repeal were there. But, what about the replacement? One group of Republicans argued that promise be damned; a replacement simply wasn’t necessary, at all. Another group reminded that if a promise was to be kept in full, then a replacement was absolutely necessary. The former set relented but insisted that any replacement had to be on their terms.
Over the next 18 days, House Republicans struggled to craft a replacement that could be embraced by both groups. Along the way, 45 tried, in order, a charm offensive, arm-twisting, and finally threats of retaliation if he did not get a repeal/replacement bill passed. There was no question that his credibility and deal-making expertise were both on the line. Cooperatively, the House GOP leadership tried tweaking the bill in various ways to make it more palatable to those who didn’t want a replacement in the first place. But, with every tweak, the more reasonable Republicans got pushed further away from their own “yes” votes.
Outside the halls of Congress, a groundswell of opposition to the repeal had materialized as citizens took to the streets in protest. Nowhere were they more evident than at the town hall meetings that their GOP representatives held. Was all this activism influential? We cannot know for sure, but the odds are that it had an impact and a decided one at that.
In the end, needing 216 votes for passage, the final version of the repeal/replace bill failed by the slimmest of margins, leaving Trump and the aforementioned leaders to wonder what else they might have done to achieve a different outcome. That they were now the faces of this epic failure was lost on no one, save for 45 who, as per his M.O., launched into blame-casting; i.e. It’s the “Democrats” fault.
Lessons to be learned
- Before you start making promises, be sure your own “ducks are in order”. If they are not or cannot be aligned, don’t make promises that you can’t keep.
- Do not confidently assume that skill in business will translate into competent executive government management.Trump has now proven that it doesn’t.
- Reject the premise that our federal government can be run like a business, and that putting a businessman in charge can make that happen. Herbert Hoover proved otherwise, and now, 45 has reinforced that outcome.
- Bitching is easy; governing, hard.
Trump and Congressional Republicans now want to move on to tax reform which is intimately tied to the president’s proposed budget. The latter has already been declared as “dead on arrival” by some representatives who are stumping for less spending and more deficit reduction. Expect more hard bargaining along with 45 having to scale back at least some of his extravagant campaign promises. It may turn out that Democrats’ best strategy will turn out to involve simply getting out of the way as their GOP cohorts form a circular firing squad.