Disaster Looms if GOP Fumbles Obamacare Repeal
Conservative base unlikely to forgive Republican lawmakers if ACA survives 2017
Republicans are flirting with catastrophic blowback should they fail to repeal the Affordable Care Act this year, say conservatives and political observers.
The political fallout for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans would be massive within the Republican base — likely bringing significant electoral consequences.
“If they can’t [repeal] now, a lot of voters will query why they should vote for them in 2018.”
“Their entire political edifice will collapse,” says Quin Hillyer, contributing editor to National Review Online and former GOP leadership staffer on Capitol Hill. “They will lose all credibility. Congress especially would look pathetic. Republicans in Congress have had seven years to agree on a plan to get health care policy correct.”
Republicans appear to be realizing the fallout potential slowly, as the year marches on but repeal prospects remain fuzzy.
Surprisingly, a key threat to Obamacare repeal comes not from the Democrats, who are in the congressional minority, but from the Right, which is insisting on their version of a replacement bill. So Republican leaders on Capitol Hill rushed to the cameras Tuesday, trying to assure the public before President Trump gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress.
The news conference sought to allay fears that infighting among conservatives — not opposition by Democrats — would sink Obamacare repeal.
On Monday, two House members of the Freedom Caucus said they would oppose the Obamacare repeal if it replaced entitlement plans within the law with new GOP versions.
Differing versions of a repeal bill could kill any hope of repealing the hated health care law this year. The timing is crucial as the Republicans can only be assured of complete control of Congress and the White House through 2018, when midterm elections will be held.
“We’re going to be unified on this,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “I think you’re going to have a lot of churning on legislation like this. This is a plan we’re all working on together — the House, the Senate, the White House, so there aren’t rival plans here.”
But the scrapping, the infighting, the posing and posturing — it all has Republicans queasy about the future.
Some Republicans don’t understand why the GOP wasn’t prepared with a quick and seamless repeal bill after seven fruitless years of threatening repeal.
Republicans also see an ugly electoral impact upon the White House and the GOP if there is a repeal breakdown.
"The simple response is, it will be huge," said Liz Mair, a Republican consultant a former social media director for the Republican National Committee. "On the one hand, for congressional Republicans, they've spent upwards of six years now promising to repeal it. They have majorities in both chambers, and Republicans control the White House. If they can't do it now, a lot of voters will query why they should vote for them in 2018 (and that includes me)."
There are multiple reasons to repeal Obamacare, one Republican professor said — not just mere politics.
For one, the Affordable Care Act is imploding. The retreat of health insurance companies from Obamacare gives Republicans even better cover for repealing the law.
So the hesitation and infighting have left some pundits and academics puzzled.
"The Republicans would pay severely for reneging on their promise to replace Obamacare, which is the poster child for what Trump ran against," said Robert Kaufman, professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. "How would it look to Trump's core constituency if he acquiesced to the Obama administration's signature accomplishment?"
Aside from the broken promise, Kaufman pointed to the danger of leaving the failing monolith in place.
"Obamacare is a time bomb fiscally, an impediment to medical innovation, and the autobahn to rationing medical care," he said. "President Trump would have little credibility in his claim to change 'politics as usual' if he and the Republican leadership caved in so early on something so fundamental."
Mair says the GOP should break the task into two parts.
"To have the best shot at survival and maintaining momentum, Republicans probably need to just take their medicine and vote to repeal it and fight about the replacement later," said Mair. "But there are huge political downsides there that the president and governors may not be okay with, when push comes to shove. Bottom line: Trump was right; health care is complicated."