At least some Republicans seem mindful of the concept, “If you break it, you own it.”
Even though Obamacare polls as having more opponents than supporters (see here and here), many of the people who have benefitted from the program are strong supporters. In addition, those who have gotten coverage via Medicaid expansion may not realize that the ACA is the reason. And even with a majority of the public typically polling as not liking Obamacare, only 20% are willing to ditch it with no replacement.
So it should not come as surprise to find that the Republicans, finding themselves in the unexpected position of being able to end Obamacare, are in a squabble over what to do about the, um, opportunity. Obamacare repeal was not a Trump priority and as Lambert has pointed out, Trump has even made statements that sound remarkably un-Republican, like copy the Canadians.
But it appears that regardless of what Trump is willing to do regarding Obamacare, he seems cognizant of the risk of creating disarray and being blamed for it…a concern he oddly does not have on other issues. It’s likely that this caution is purely cynical: that he understands how complicated implementing a replacement or even a stopgap would be, and he does not want Congress spending time on the Republican party bete noire of Obamacare to the detriment of pushing through Trump’s priority items, particularly early in his term when he has the best chance to take ground quickly.
And the Republicans are divided enough to potentially forestall quick action. Politico and Bloomberg put different spins on the same story. Politico goes with the party line: GOP leaders vow to plow ahead with Obamacare repeal. The wee problem is that GOP leadership isn’t what it is cracked up to be. Remember how Boehner was repeatedly unable to bring the unruly Tea Party faction to heel? And one of the first acts of the incoming House, to gut its own ethics office, turned into a PR disaster and was quickly scuttled.
That means there’s good reason to regard the fracture over what path to take with Obamacare as serious. From Bloomberg:
A breakaway group of five moderate Senate Republicans pushed Monday to delay a bill repealing Obamacare until March — potentially enough pressure to force the party’s leadership to comply.
The step is the latest sign of some Republicans’ growing uneasiness about their leadership’s plan to repeal the law with no consensus on a replacement as part of an effort to deliver swiftly on one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top campaign promises.
Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered an amendment Monday to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.
The story points out that any more than one defection in the Senate would stymie their plan to use budget reconciliation to kill Obamacare before Trump is sworn in. And the ranks of the refusniks is growing:
On Monday, more senators said they agreed with a delay on the tax front, including Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters that the taxes used to subsidize insurance for millions of Americans could be dealt with later this year in a larger tax overhaul.
Republicans senators are also grappling with the risks of repealing the law before a replacement is ready.
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said he wants to see a “pretty darn specific” proposal to replace Obamacare before it’s repealed.
Huffington Post’s whip count has a solid six Republican Senators not willing to repeal Obamacare immediately, and another three nervous:
Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process.
It’s not clear how strongly these senators feel about it, or whether they are willing to defy party leadership over how and when efforts to repeal Obamacare proceed.
But at least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine ― well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress.
And the House isn’t fully on board either. Back to Bloomberg:
On the House side, the new chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus said his group wants to see more details about an Obamacare replacement before voting on the budget resolution.
“We hope they would see the prudence of waiting,” Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina said Monday night.
Needless to say, there are many substantive issues to be addressed. Some Congressmen want a quick end to Obamacare, while others want a gradual phase-over/out. Some want a replacement scheme that still offers broad coverage, which will be a difficult sell to small government purists.
So the Republican failure to create a consensus around what to do about their hated Obamacare looks about to deliver Trump a lucky break. But Republican divisions may not serve him so well on other fronts. The Cabinet pick that is arguably the most important for Trump to have approved, Rex Tillerson, is also the one most in jeopardy thanks to diehard Cold Warriors like John McCain being firmly opposed to Trump’s plans to improve relations with Russia. Oil companies conduct their own foreign policy, and so an oil executive like Tillerson is one of the few routes open to Trump to get someone outside the Department of State/CIA apparatus with high level foreign experience, and better yet, good working relations with top Russian officials. By contrast, even though Trump may like and want to reward Steve Mnuchin (and other Cabinet nominees), he’s short on relevant experience and could readily be replaced in the unlikely event he were voted down. (Mind you, having any Cabinet pick nixed would be a big proof that Trump’s position with his own party is tenuous, but Tillerson would be a very serious loss for Trump).
It’s one thing for Trump to have the chips fall his way, as they appear to be doing with Obamacare. We’ll see over the coming weeks and months if he can exploit divisions, as opposed to merely create them.