Friday, March 24, 2017

Listen: what the hell just happened with Obamacare repeal?

Simply put, the Republicans lost.

There's no trick or subterfuge here.  There's no clever ploy or bargaining happening.  Based on everything we know now, the Republicans tried to write a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare and they failed so badly that they couldn't even get it past the first vote in the House.

And they gave up.  The Speaker of the House and the President have both confirmed that they're "moving on from healthcare."

The freshly-elected Republican President could not get a bill that his party had been seeking for seven years -- a bill that he'd vowed would be superb and easy -- through a Congress stacked with Republican majorities in both houses.

To start with, the bill was bad.  I have been over this, but repealing Obamacare was always going to be very difficult, and this bill in particular was awful.  The hard-line House Freedom Caucus among the Republicans in the House hated it, egged on by some key senators, since it left key components of Obamacare in place.  And a lot of moderates hated it because it was inconceivably cruel and incompetently designed.

The GOP knew this was going to be a nasty fight, since not a single Democrat was going to help them.  (And by the way, if you are represented by a Democrat, they deserve your praise and thanks today!)  Republicans tried to railroad it through as quickly as possible.  Committee markup took place in marathon 18-hour sessions and the Senate was set to debate and vote on the bill during a single week.

But it soon became clear that they didn't have the votes, as informal counts showed over the past couple of weeks.  Angry constituents (take a bow, everyone!) called and wrote and showed up at fundraisers.  The CBO score was crushingly bad.  Every single interest group hated it (except big business).

This version of the bill was dead.  Everyone knew it, really.  It wasn't getting past the Senate, not like this.  But they couldn't just give up -- or even worse, try to pass the bill and fail!  A failed vote would force all of those moderates to take a hard vote -- put their opinion on their record, ready-made for attacks ads by an opponent! -- but without any benefit.

It now seems clear that the plan was to pass it, though, and hope that the Senate passed their own version, and then just try to get a compromise done somehow.  They just needed to get something through the House, even if it was a mess.

There were only two possible remedies.

First, they amended the bill.  They made it more cruel, stripping out the provisions that required essential benefits (meaning that insurers would be able to eliminate maternity benefits or addiction treatment, for example).  They threw in a few legislative bribes to special interests, like the Buffalo Bribe for upstate New York Republicans.  They did whatever they could to get it through.

Second, they brought in the administration.  Donald J. Trump, the great dealmaker.  He would twist arms, threaten and snarl, make promises to sweeten the deal.  Who would dare cross this man, the guy who commanded rallies of hundreds of thousands?  The guy who could famously make even the hardest deals happen?

They got, instead, failure.  Cataclysmic failure.

The amendments made things worse, not better, as the changes scared away even more moderates and failed to win over the hard-liners.  And, as it turns out, Trump didn't really have any tricks up his sleeve... his "hard sell" was just to insist that it was a great bill and to hint that he would remember those who opposed him.

They didn't have the votes.  The Speaker wanted to pull it and wait.  But Trump insisted on a vote... he wanted to know exactly who would dare vote "against him."

All day today, the House worked through voting procedures (a big bill like this requires a lot of little votes beforehand).  And all day, the news got worse.  The scheduled vote was at 3:30, and finally, the Speaker went to the White House and told Trump the bad news.  And presumably, told him that it was utterly idiotic to actually hold the vote.  Why put this horrorshow on the record?

Trump agreed.  They pulled the bill.  And they're moving on.  It's dead.

“ObamaCare will remain the law of the land until it’s replaced," the Speaker said. "We’re going to be living with ObamaCare for the foreseeable future."

This is a historic defeat.  No president has ever, to my knowledge, been handed a public and humiliating defeat on one of their key promises in their first hundred days.

You can stop holding your breath.  No tricks, no plots, no ploys.  This one seems to be over.

Celebrate.  Thank your reps.  Make plans for the next battle.

And maybe make a doctor's appointment -- it's your right.

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