I almost didn’t find time to write this piece tonight because of all media coverage of the revelations of possible collusion of the members of the Trump’s campaign with Russian agents. However, this needs to be said because the House vote of the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is scheduled for tomorrow in the House of Representatives.
The Tea Party movement in this country has been troubling to me since the it started showing its ugly face on the public scene. In my mind the old men with wearing tri-cornered hats with pistols strapped to their skinny hips and carrying signs proclaiming “Don’t Tread on Me” while shouting far right slogans were the fitting face of the movement. Even more disturbing were the seemingly articulate politicians that they elected to the US Congress. These new Representatives were so far to the right that they made their conservative establishment Republican colleagues look like liberals by comparison. I never believed that they would be useful to this country in any way, but I might have been wrong.
Right now the Freedom Caucus, as the group of Tea Party Representatives chose to be known, is this country’s best hope for insuring that health care progress made by the Affordable Care Act is not destroyed completely. If Paul Ryan’s “Affordable Health Care Act” does is not passed by the House in its present form tomorrow, we can credit the Freedom Caucus members. They are not standing in the way of its passage for honorable reasons. They aren’t interested in protecting our most vulnerable citizens – just the opposite. They are dead set on making Ryan’s bill which the Congressional Budget Office says will deprive 24 million people of health insurance over the next ten years even more draconian. However, in a weird way that works to our advantage. Let me explain.
First, and most superficially, it might deprive Trump and Ryan of a quick victory in the House. Never mind that the bill as currently written would be dead on arrival in the Senate and would have to be totally rewritten to garner the votes of the moderate Republican Senators representing blue states needed to pass in that body. If the bill passes tomorrow in its present form, Ryan and Trump will declare victory. However, if it doesn’t pass the “Great Negotiator” will have failed in his first test as President. He has put his entire weight behind the present bill and he has been on Capital Hill twisting arms and making treats in strong effort to get it passed. If the bill fails to pass or has to be withdrawn tomorrow, Trump’s reputation will take a hit in the eyes of his supporters and his power will be somewhat more limited in the future. Nothing stings a narcissist more than public failure.
More importantly, if the members of the Freedom Caucus stick to their guns, the bill which will eventually pass in the House will be even more limiting of government subsidies and the financial support of states which have expanded Medicaid. Some of those states have Republican governors. On the surface the resulting bill would be terrible, but politically it could be a very good thing. Such a draconian bill would be even less palatable to Republican moderates in the Senate and other Republicans Senators whose states have profited by the expansion of Medicaid. The gap between a bill which can pass in the House and one which has a chance of passing in the Senate would grow much larger.
Eventually, in order to repeal and replace Obamacare and send the resulting bill to Trump’s desk for signature, most of the House Republicans and nearly all of the Republican Senators have to agree on a compromise bill. The further the two bodies are apart in their initial positions, the less likely is that any compromise bill will be viable. So the Freedom Causes’ demands actually make it less likely that the two Houses of Congress will ever come to agreement.
Now all of this drama is being made possible by the fact that the Democrats in the House and the Senate are wisely sitting on the sidelines and unanimously refusing to support any Republican plan. But what happens if efforts to pass a Republican fail completely? Suppose that the House and Senate can never agree on a compromise bill, what then?
One of the hallmarks of Trump’s campaign was the repeal and replacement of Obamacare with something “Much Better”, something “Really Great”. There are two things we know about the Trump: One is that he hates to lose. Another is his willingness to pivot on a dime when faced with impossibility of achieving something he has promised. He usually restates his promises in terms that might be achievable. If efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act fail miserably, I can see Trump saying something like, “What I really meant was that I would improve the health care system in this country and how we go about doing that isn’t really important.”
If he finds that a Republican only plan has no chance of passing both Houses of Congress, Trump would have only one viable option – give the Democrats a reason to get off of the sidelines so they could help pass a reasonable health care bill. The only thing that might get Democrats in the House and the Senate involved would be a bipartisan effort to improve the Affordable Care Act. Of course to give Trump and the Republicans cover, the Democrats would have to agree to change the name of the new bill so it is no longer referred to as Obamacare, but that is a small price to pay to safeguard the health of all Americans. In such a scenario we could end up with an even better health care plan then we have now passed by Democrats and reasonable Republicans.
Okay, okay, I know I’m dreaming the impossible dream, but this I do know – the more difficulty the Republicans have in coming up with a plan which will repeal and replace Obamacare, the better I like it. And if the Freedom Caucus adds to that degree of difficulty, I will grudgingly thank them.