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Obamacare wins again; Thanks, Mr. Trump

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

After Republicans spectacularly failed to gather enough votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Donald Trump should consider changing his slogan from "Make America Great Again" to "Hey, We Tried."

And somewhere, I am so sure, former President Barack Obama is smiling.

His signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, survived with all of its imperfections -- and it's apparently growing in popularity -- intact after a Republican push to repeal and replace it fell apart Monday night.

After a few weeks of closed-door meetings and a lot of backstage bargaining for votes, support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's ACA repeal-and-replace bill, nicknamed Trumpcare by its critics, collapsed like a leaky blimp.

Relying solely on Republican votes, support for the bill melted away after two conservative Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Kansas' Jerry Moran, said they would not vote for it. That put the final nails in Trumpcare's coffin.

Good riddance. Among other problems in my view, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the GOP's Senate bill would leave 22 million people without insurance coverage, a toll surpassed in its cruelty only by the House Republican bill, which the CBO says would deny health care to 24 million Americans.

Those unattractive options help to explain why national approval ratings for Obamacare rose above 50 percent after Trump's election and have continued to rise as the public learns what the possible alternatives could be.

What went wrong for repeal? Three problems stand out.

One, after years of promising repeal and repeatedly voting for it -- only to be repeatedly vetoed by President Obama -- congressional Republicans neglected to come up with an alternative plan to introduce, not that it would have had a chance of passing.

Two, the GOP's failure to create an alternative plan exposed deep fissures. The polarization within the party and the reduction of moderates to an endangered species has left the GOP too divided within their own ranks to reach a consensus on the best remedy for Obamacare's ills.

Third, President Trump is too inexperienced in government and too clueless about how Capitol Hill works to provide the leadership and arm-twisting that get important bills passed. That has left even more heavy lifting for McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan without much help from the president, beyond his cheerleading tweets.

Also, let's face it: The Republicans have not had their heart in this fight. Health care has long been a top agenda item for Democrats in the way that tax cuts are for Republicans.

That's why the GOP health care bills, short on spending and long on tax cuts, have looked more like tax reform legislation than health care bills.

But, after making ACA repeal a top priority, Republicans own the health care issue now, whether they like it or not.

That's particularly embarrassing now for GOP leaders. Even with control of the White House and Congress the Trump-era GOP has yet to send up a major piece of legislation for President Trump's signature.

Obamacare repeal now joins Trump's proposed tax code overhaul, his proposed "trillion-dollar infrastructure" and his proposed Mexican border wall among major promises that currently are stalled.

What next? Trump's morning tweets struggled to put a smiley face on the GOP's catastrophe -- and throw a little blame on Democrats. "We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans," he tweeted. "Most Republicans were loyal, terrific and worked really hard. We will return!"

"Let down?" As if he really had some reason to expect help from the Democrats in dismantling Obama's signature legislation? Maybe now Trump knows how Obama felt after Republicans boycotted the ACA's original passage.

Having failed at the repeal-and-replace approach, McConnell briefly proposed repeal-and-delay. He floated the idea of bringing the House-passed bill up for consideration "in the coming days" and amending it with a full repeal -- and a two-year delay for implementation.

At least three Republican senators said they wouldn't support that path, though, and it was dropped Tuesday. McConnell can say, again, "Well, we tried."

Right. His best chance is if he genuinely reaches out to Democrats, whom he has threatened to approach if he doesn't get enough cooperation from his fellow Republicans. Obama and other Democratic leaders have said all along that the ACA needs improving, not repeal. No argument there. What's hard to imagine is actual bipartisan cooperation in today's divided Congress. Still, it's worth a try.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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