Parker: Governing by ultimatum

Kathleen Parker,


Kathleen Parker


WASHINGTON – In a week that felt like a month, Americans got a clear view of Donald Trump's governing style and also of his fabled dealmaking approach.

Or rather, I should say, Trump got a good sense of what governing is like — hard, hard, hard. And it's bound to get more difficult given the president's tactics of consent: Do as I say or you're dead to me.

Even bolder, Trump told congressional Republicans that if they didn't pass the American Health Care Act to repeal Obamacare, he was finished. Done. He'd walk away and move on to other things, he told recalcitrants.

House opposition to the health care bill came both from moderates, as well as from hard-core, market purists, notably the Freedom Caucus. The latter didn't want Obamacare Lite. They wanted obliteration. As negotiations continued until the vote was called off Friday afternoon, the path to reform became increasingly muddled — and the way forward more complex. Fixing health care was never going to be a one-off.

But Trump, who promised repeal and replace (as has nearly every Republican the past seven years), has no patience with process. As the chief executive of his own company for most of his life, and notwithstanding his reverence for his dealmaking skills, he prefers quick results. And, hey, if things don't tumble his way, well, there are other greens to sow and mow. And, certainly, a 30-foot wall to build.

To the 60-day president, it seemed, getting health care out of the way was mostly a means to checking a box — an important one, to be sure — but nothing to bestir his personal passions. Call it ego. Call it pride. Call it a day, but get it done, he commanded. Or else: "I'm gonna come after you," Trump told North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, one of his fiercest foes in the Freedom Caucus opposition. The president was joking around, according to those present, but Meadows still might want to keep a close eye on his favorite bunny.  

As many have observed, Trump's spin of the wheel was risky business. He gambled on his own power to persuade (or bluff), the result of which could leave him holding Obamacare and conceding failure. What, then, do Republicans tell their base? And what would this say about the party in power? After years of harping on the collapsing health care plan installed by President Obama and the then-Democratically controlled House and Senate, they had their opportunity to govern responsibly.

You'd think seven years would be ample time to cobble something together that could replace Obamacare. The fact that Republicans didn't confirms that such an overhaul requires the time and patience Trump and Co. haven't been willing — or able — to spare. What we saw these past several weeks, meanwhile, was a frantic race to pass something virtually no one recognized as a workable piece of legislation, and which the Senate would probably reject.

Back in 2010, when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Obamacare had to be passed so that we could find out what was in the bill, Republicans guffawed — and never let her forget it. At least, one observes, the Democrats had a bill. GOP legislators have been racing to pass something that isn't fully written yet.

What's with the rush, anyway? Why not take the time to get things right? While Democrats solicited input from experts in the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, Republicans have spent most of their time fighting among themselves. The resulting bill was a patchwork of margin scribbles and crossouts, even including instructions to the Senate to figure out ways to make certain parts work. And the rush was mere drama. A week ago Thursday, the original deadline for the vote, was the seven-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act's passage.

Once that deadline passed, Trump began acting like a child who didn't get to have his birthday party on the precise day of his miraculous delivery into the glare. Forget it. I don't even want a party now.

The truth is, many Republicans never seriously thought Obamacare could be repealed and replaced, probably for the good reason that it's nearly impossible to do. The most sensible solution was to fix what was already in place until the inevitable day, coming soon, when we become a dual health care system: Single-payer for the majority of Americans and concierge health care for the wealthy. It's just a matter of time.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.