Guest opinion: Republicans deal first blow to Obamacare

The Orange County Register
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The second time proved to be the charm for the House GOP, whose first effort to begin repealing and replacing Obamacare had to be pulled from a vote for lack of support.

This time, a bill with enough votes to pass raced through, prompting spontaneous celebrations from one side of the aisle while Democrats on the other joined in a chant meant to predict a bloodbath for yea voters the next election cycle. Now, all eyes are the Senate — where Republicans hope to somehow improve on Obamacare and the House bill alike.

All told, the legislative situation is much more of a mess than any party, or the American people, would prefer. Democrats still don’t agree whether single-payer government coverage would be superior to Obamacare’s clunky hybrid regime. Republicans are torn between a desire to wipe away the program and a fear of being blamed for future harm to infirm Americans. Making matters worse, Democrats are already spinning the new bill hard as, on top of it all, a huge gift to wealthy taxpayers. At first blush, the halting effort to find some stable destination to the tortured health care journey is just one more illustration of how inept and dysfunctional Washington has become.

But there is another story, too. Obamacare just wasn’t popular or effective enough to win Democrats majorities and stave off a sustained challenge. Nor did President Obama care enough about the success of his party down ballot to build some electoral firewalls into the system. So when Republicans wound up with control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it would have been an absurd triumph of political malpractice for them to have given up on moving federal health policy away from Obamacare. It was their biggest promise to the electorate, and one of their best shots at notching a clear victory on the board early this year.

Yet, the GOP position is so fluid and uncertain in the Trump era that even chipping away at Obamacare came along with some outsized challenges. Republicans knew well that it would be hard to improve on Obamacare in significant ways without risking weaker coverage in others. The logical course of action was to get something passed through the House and get it up to the Senate, where officeholders are relatively more collegial, more secure in their seats, and more comfortable taking their time to work the legislative process. Without pulling that off, any chance of improving even a little on Obamacare would be gone, maybe forever. From that perspective, the supposedly disorganized and incompetent GOP House actually managed to pull off a top priority for the GOP base — including voters who preferred Trump and those who didn’t.

Getting there, so far, may not have been pretty. But whatever the Senate decides to do, the most likely outcome is at least a marginal improvement on Obamacare. Senate Republicans are less apt to incur Democrats’ wrath with a rash, harsh bill than to make small, positive changes and tell GOP voters they did their best under the circumstances. Either way, Republicans are poised to fulfill the basic vow that earned them their majorities and helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency. Barring some act of boneheaded politics, they’re in a stronger position than their critics think.

— The Orange County Register