Congress has reached a sorry state when a new edition opens with the top priorities being to undo was the previous president accomplished — purely for partisan spite.
And yet, that’s what’s about to happen in the 115th Congress.
Repubicans fought bitterly against the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment. Now they’ll dismantle it, with the support of President-elect Donald Trump, who campaigned against it and vowed to repeal it.
And so isolated are Repubicans, talking only to each other and not interested in dissenting views, that they’re going to proceed with killing “Obamacare” even though the president is leaving office with a high approval rating and his ACA has made it possible for 20 million Americans to have health insurance.
What likely galls Republicans, of course, is that the ACA didn’t do what they said it was going to do: the federal deficit declined and did not increase; the conventional health care system with employer-based coverage in which most Americans are enrolled did not explode with the establishment of the ACA; doctors did not leave the profession in droves; the shaky start, with technical difficulties, was overcome.
But now Republicans will repeal the ACA — or at least parts of it. Some provisions they’ll try to keep, and others they’ll phase out over time. But will they come up with the “replacement” plan they’ve long discussed? Some talk replacement, others talk abolition.
Then, they say, it’s on to reform of Social Security and Medicare. And this may prove not just complicated, but politically catastrophic. When President George W. Bush talked only a little about privatization of Social Security, the conversation quickly ended. The “reform” sounds good in a Republican caucus meeting, with members generously covered by federal health care and pensions, but once that discussion leaves the caucus, it tends to die quickly.
Doubtless Republicans will move on other Obama initiatives, including trade deals and consumer protection and environmental safeguards, and they have the votes to overcome filibusters and the like. And, they’ll enjoy insulting the Obama legacy further by quickly approving a conservative justice for the Supreme Court.
The politics of revenge, though, is a crusade that doesn’t last long. President Obama will soon be gone from office, and the people, exhausted by the prolonged attacks on him by Republicans, will look to Trump and Congress to do something, to demonstrate how they plan to make Americans’ lives better. If they have a plan, let’s see it. If they don’t, they’d better get to work.