During almost seven years of Barack Obama’s tenure, congressional Republicans held useless Repeal Obamacare rehearsal votes dozens of times. The law was unpopular, so they raised millions off a promise to repeal it for real once they got a GOP president. And, lo and behold, Republicans last November won control of Congress and the White House.
But now that they hold the offices, they can’t seem to get it done. So, how do Republicans respond? They start fighting among themselves while Democrats watch with glee.
Circular firing squads are a familiar feature of GOP politics. With the party’s national reputation for governing on the line over such a longstanding promise, nine GOP senators say they won’t support the bill, most of them because they want something more in or out of it.
But these profound internal GOP divisions do not just threaten Obamacare’s repeal. They endanger upcoming votes on the debt limit, tax reform, trade and the budget, especially defense spending increases, among other issues. The splits also undermine Trump’s oft-repeated boast to be the Great Deal Maker, leaving Republicans to appear incapable of governing as the 2018 midterms loom.
It’s like the tiny circus car that keeps disgorging clown after clown after clown, each one honking a horn and playing to the crowd. Rand Paul wants parts deleted as new entitlements. Susan Collins thinks she can woo Democrat support. “Adding a bit more money isn’t going to be the answer,” she said. Pat Toomey says the bill must keep a strict Medicaid inflation. Mike Lee wants more regulations repealed.
The GOP emerged from the Obama Era of Error riding high. Since 2010, largely as a result of Obamacare, they took control of the House, then the Senate, then the Oval Office. Perhaps more importantly, on the state and local levels Republicans took control of 33 governor’s offices, both state houses in 26 of those states and now hold nearly 4,200 state seats. That’s 60% of the total.
If they can maintain those holdings, they’ll be in prime position to control redistricting coming out of the 2020 census, as they did in 2010.
What could go wrong with too much success?
For one thing, whether by luck or devious device, Obamacare is laden with legislative IEDs, interlocking finances and new entitlements that no one wants to forfeit and that make disassembly complicated. The GOP has also lost the message war as media reports 22 million will “lose” health insurance, though most of them are people freed from having to buy it. This fuels a surging popularity for Obamacare.
And true to tradition, Republicans can’t handle their own success. Not much listening underway. Everyone thinks they have a better idea. And despite showy displays of unity when Trump calls everyone to meet, the House repeal vote was postponed, then passed way too narrowly. Senate leaders had to postpone the vote too.
Even if sometime in July the skilled cat-herder Mitch McConnell rounds up the 50 necessary votes (plus Mike Pence), the two GOP versions go to conference. Good luck sorting out those differing versions into an acceptable compromise that actually does something.