President Trump may have put points on the board with his weekend offensive against the NFL, but he lost a big game where the score really counts.
The collapse of the third and final attempt to revamp ObamaCare, sealed on Monday when Susan Collins became the third Senate Republican to oppose it, leaves the president’s party with a shutout in terms of major legislative victories. The GOP leadership officially pulled the plug yesterday, canceling the vote.
I never thought the Graham-Cassidy bill had much chance, given that the messy compromise—returning federal health money to the states, risking chaos by creating 50 separate markets—was so unpredictable. The effort seemed driven mainly by a Republican determination to get 50 votes for anything that could be called reform after the failure of the two previous bills.
I’m not suggesting the bill might have survived if Trump had said nothing about the NFL and NBA and devoted his Twitter account to health reform. The deep divide within the GOP was just too fundamental to overcome.
Trump yesterday criticized John McCain on Twitter and told reporters he is "disappointed in so-called Republicans" who opposed the bill.
At a news conference yesterday, Trump said his attacks on kneeling NFL players haven’t distracted him from the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, which he’ll next week. "I was ashamed of what was taking place ... Was I preoccupied? Not at all."
The president never really got behind one version of health care reform and never used the bully pulpit to sell that to the public. He got one bill through the House, but then largely left the mechanics to Mitch McConnell—and became highly frustrated with the majority leader before turning to Chuck and Nancy on other issues.
Still, the primary fault lies with congressional Republicans who constantly voted to repeal and replace under Barack Obama, but had no plan ready to go when Trump was sworn in.
Sure, we all know that it’s hard to take away federal benefits once they become law. And yes, the media have largely downplayed the problems with ObamaCare and were sympathetic to the status quo. Each GOP senator who came out against the bill—Collins, Rand Paul, and especially McCain—was portrayed as courageous. (Plus, they got the Jimmy Kimmel seal of approval.) Had any of them decided the bill was worthy, they would have gotten a ton of negative press.
The Republicans didn’t help themselves by trying to rush the bill through (before a procedural deadline) with no CBO score. And Graham and Cassidy tried to win over Collins and Lisa Murkowski by adding extra money for their states of Maine and Alaska—a maneuver that backfired in Collins’ case.
I have no problem with legislative horse-trading, but Republicans went ballistic seven years ago when Harry Reid offered additional funds for Nebraska to win over Ben Nelson’s vote—which they derided as the Cornhusker Kickback. Now they are resorting to the same tactics.
When you strip out the politics, Trump and his party hit a fundamental impasse. One faction wanted to largely junk ObamaCare. The other faction didn’t want huge numbers of people removed from the insurance rolls or those with preexisting conditions priced out of the market. The gap was too big to bridge.
It’s possible, especially if they can pass tax cuts and some other measures, that the issue may have faded by the 2018 elections. That could be a better outcome than passing a law that Democrats could portray as hurting millions of people that candidate Donald Trump promised to protect.