If President Trump were still enjoying some kind of “honeymoon” period in the early months of his presidency, his call to arms this week for Republican senators to pass a repeal and sort-of replacement of the Affordable Care Act might build momentum.
But Trump’s approval ratings are in the doldrums, and his leadership on this and other issues has reflected his inexperience in Washington and his lack of self-discipline. First Trump favored the House-passed plan; then he said it was “mean.” Then he pushed Senate leader Mitch McConnell, but the McConnell plan was thin on substance and a catastrophe as far as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office view, in that it would have left more than 20 million Americans without health insurance in a few years.
It appeared at one point that Republicans were ready to do the smart thing, which would have been to let this campaign quietly perish. But now the push continues, with Trump doing some amateurish arm-twisting at a White House lunch and a revised plan was said by the CBO to be even worse in terms of leaving people without insurance – the number was up to over 30 million in less than 10 years.
Now Trump wants Congress to forgo its August recess to produce a health care bill. That’s highly unlikely with the president in a weak negotiating position and with polls showing “Obamacare” is more and more popular with the public and that the Republican plan, such as it is, has little public support.
McConnell is also in trouble with Sen. John McCain, whose vote he needs, in the hospital battling brain cancer. The tragedy of McCain, a Vietnam hero and straight shooter greatly admired by the public – rightly so – also in a way magnifies the issues in the health care debate. Many thousands of Americans are in similar fights for their lives, but those under the ACA would be in serious trouble in that fight without the protections of President Obama’s signature legislation. That is a contrast with the excellent care members of Congress receive, care to which every American ought to have access without lawmakers deciding who lives and who dies – the ultimate choice that will be left to those who vote on any potential repeal and replacement of the ACA.
Republicans should tear up their partisan, anti-Obama game plan and instead address the problems with the ACA – uneven insurance coverage in different states, drug prices, access to specialists and others – without political grandstanding.
If they worked with Democrats to fix what ails Obamacare, they would ultimately produce a moment equivalent to the creation of Social Security and Medicare. And they could take credit for positive action instead of following the president’s lead, to turn every debate into an assault on his predecessor.