Alexander's Column

Democrats Beware — ObamaCare Survived

If our Republican conference conservatives pursue an "all or none" strategy, they should just give the keys to the Democrats now.

Mark Alexander · Mar. 29, 2017

“Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives, not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as upon those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit, which has, at all times, characterized political parties.” —Alexander Hamilton (1787)

Despite all the hyperventilated ad-revenue-driven media shock banners and alerts, ad nauseam, about a lack of Republican agreement on how to defuse the Democrats’ ObamaCare time-bomb last week, make no mistake: The Democrat Party’s so-called “Affordable Care Act,” which turned out to be anything but, remains locked in a death spiral. The lack of a Republican consensus may appear to be a “Democrat victory” for the moment, but their failed socialist health care charade is on life support.

That notwithstanding, so gleeful are Democrats that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stalled a Senate confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s outstanding Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. This maneuver is an attempt to derail another one of Trump’s major campaign promises — appointing a conservative jurist to fill the vacant seat of the late Antonin Scalia. The delay allows Senate Democrats to bask a bit longer in the glow over House Republicans’ unsuccessful first pass at cleaning up the train wreck known as ObamaCare.

Now, emboldened by the Trump/Ryan setback, Schumer is floating a filibuster to the vote on Judge Gorsuch, which will force Senate Republicans to either abandon the nomination (which has exactly zero chance of happening) or change the rules of the Senate to allow confirmation by a simple majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell re-affirmed his intent to see the Gorsuch confirmation through — noting it is up to Democrats to choose how that happens.

Altering the Senate rule is too often referred to as “the nuclear option,” but it’s really “the Reid Rule,” as it was former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who brazenly changed Senate rules in 2013 to abolish the filibuster on agency-level and judicial nominees. By wielding this rule against the party that created it, Republicans are providing an age-old Scriptural lesson for their irreligious Democratic brethren: “As you sow so shall you reap.”

Regarding the sidelined health care reform bill, as long as “ObamaCare is the law of the land,” as Speaker Paul Ryan laments, Americans who bought into the false promise of cheap health care coverage will continue to find themselves over-charged, under-insured and poorly served — at least until Republicans can agree on an alternative to restore and improve private-sector health care markets. Notably, while that agreement seeks to be a “repeal,” there are few things on the planet more complex than summarily repealing an entitlement — especially one that so many citizens across the political spectrum have been forced to accept.

Of course, the media’s coverage of Republican efforts on behalf of those Americans has been all fragrance and little substance. This is because fomenting dissent along topical lines of division sells advertising, while delving into the details of complicated legislation does not. “Breaking News Alert” would better read “Faking News Alert.” Despite the MSM’s contrary declarations about the demise of the Republican bill, to paraphrase that sage Mark Twain, reports of health care reform’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Though Republican leaders pulled their American Health Care Act legislation because of insufficient support, despite Trump’s “ultimatum” to pass it on an unrealistic timetable, the lack of consensus on the Republican side of the House (and the Senate) is having an unintended consequence. The conservative Republican brand has been deeply wounded. The failure of this bill was not about a lack of loyalty to the president but a lack of loyalty to the American people.

The fact is, the Trump/Ryan proposal had many strong merits (along with its flaws), including subjecting Medicaid to budget constraints for the first time since it was enacted in 1965. But as political analyst Dennis Prager argues, sometimes purists are determined to kill what they believe in by taking the “all or none” route.

“In terms of policy,” notes Prager, “Donald Trump is a conservative dream. From appointing a conservative to the Supreme Court, to approving the Keystone XL pipeline, to weakening the fanatical, hysterical, and tyrannical EPA, to appointing an ambassador to the United Nations who has moral contempt for that immoral institution, to backing Israel, to seeking to reduce economy-choking regulations on business — indeed essentially everything conservatives would wish for in a president — Donald Trump is almost too good to be true.”

Indeed, as I wrote in December, the conservative profile of Donald Trump’s administration was shaping up to rival that of Ronald Reagan’s first administration. And Trump has continued to surround himself with very capable conservatives.

The primary concern voiced by the Freedom Caucus was that the proposed plan left too much of the ObamaCare infrastructure in place, particularly the regulations that imposed government mandates on health insurance markets.

To that end, my friend Jim DeMint at Heritage Foundation had proposed a comprehensive health care reform bill, because, as Heritage health care policy analyst Edmund Haislmaier concluded, “While the [House] bill contained a number of provisions that were good conservative policies, a major reason it fell short was that [it] did not go far enough in dismantling ObamaCare’s regulatory architecture.”

I agree with their assessment, and similar analysis from other conservative colleagues, but I do not agree with their “all or none” tactics.

As Prager concludes, “Passing even a tepid first bill to begin the process of dismantling the crushing burden of ObamaCare would have been an important first step in weakening the Left — not only by beginning to repeal ObamaCare but also by strengthening the Trump presidency and the president’s ability to go forward with tax reform and other parts of his conservative agenda.”

The bottom line is that Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and the majority of Republicans (including some very conservative Republicans) concurred that their American Health Care Act was the best they could do under the circumstances, given that Republicans only hold a two-vote majority in the Senate. Recall that one of those votes is that of Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted against the 2015 ObamaCare repeal bill. So, despite the Freedom Caucus demands, if implemented, their revised bill would face certain defeat in the Senate.

If our Republican conference conservatives pursue this fracturing strategy, they should just give the majority keys to the Democrats now. No doubt Trump will soon dispense his conciliatory tone and take to twitter, enlarging the rift. Recall that similar fratricidal infighting by my Tea Party friends “all or none” opposition to Romney/Ryan in 2012, helped deliver a second-term victory to Barack Obama.

Endeavoring to put lipstick on a pig, Trump noted, “It’s going to be an experience that leads to an even better health care plan. … I know some of the Democrats and they’re good people. I honestly believe the Democrats will come to us and say, ‘Look, let’s get together and get a great health care bill or plan that is really great for the people of our country.’” Suggesting that he might cut a deal with Democrats was a loud shot across the bow of the Freedom Caucus. Heck, even Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders concedes, “ObamaCare has serious problems. Deductibles are too high. Premiums are too high. The cost of health care is going up at a much faster rate than it should.”

However, allow me to reiterate that, despite the giddiness of Democrats and their mainstream media trucklings, the lack of a vote last week should not be construed to mean health care legislation is dead. According to Speaker Ryan: “We’re not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines. There’s too much at stake to get bogged down in all of that. We saw good overtures from those members from different parts of our conference to get there because we all share these goals, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to get it done.”

Indeed, there are backroom deals being negotiated right now, and Ryan will call for another vote on an amended version of the current bill or Republicans will draft a new one.

As Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) made clear, “This is not the end of the debate,” and Donald Trump “will deliver” on health care reform. “It’s incumbent upon … conservatives and moderates to come together, hopefully in the coming days, to find some consensus, to present something to the president that certainly not only gets him [218] votes, but, hopefully, 235 votes,” Meadows said. “To put a stake in it today would not be accurate, nor would be the narrative that this is a great failure for the president.”

Founding Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan (R-OH) called for unity around a better bill: “Let’s stop doing the blame game and get back to work and do what we told the American people we were going to accomplish, which is repeal ObamaCare and replace it with a patient-centered health care program.”

This bill should be passed and then left to the Senate for reconciliation. And on that note, recall that there are five senators on the ballot in 2018 from states won by Donald Trump in 2016. Need they be reminded that ObamaCare’s oppressive mandates have driven up the cost of premiums between 44.5% and 68%?

So it’s back to the boiler room, where (hopefully) Donald Trump can demonstrate his mastery of “The Art of the Deal.”

Looking just ahead, the most damaging consequence of withdrawing the Trump/Ryan health care bill is its implication for upcoming Trump initiatives. His “repeal and replace ObamaCare” promise is at least temporarily on the rocks, his Supreme Court nominee is being held hostage, and his third major initiative, tax reform, is now at risk.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insists that Trump’s huge tax cut bill will be “a lot simpler” to pass than the health care bill.

Indeed, it should be, given that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rates of any industrialized nation on the planet. Small business owners now pay a top federal tax rate of 39.6% and another 3.8% surtax under ObamaCare, while larger corporations pay 35% on earnings.

Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) are promoting a bill that’s focused on job growth, but the key will be whether it’s revenue neutral. Enter, once again, the Freedom Caucus…

The most immediate challenge for Republicans is the expiration of government funding on April 28, and failure to approve a debt solution would trigger a partial government shutdown. (Remember how that turned out last time around?) Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) concludes, “Shutting down the government when you are a Republican Congress and a Democrat is in the White House was one thing. You could chalk that up to a disagreement between the parties. But when you control the House and the Senate and the White House and shut down the government — there is no excuse for that at all.”

If the Trump/Ryan tax reform plan faces as much discord as their health care plan, then the first victim is likely to be Trump’s supplemental budget request for additional military spending, improved security along our southern border, and offsetting domestic spending cuts.

If my fellow conservatives obstruct passage of Trump’s tax reform bill, then perhaps they should, as Dennis Prager suggests, remember this adage: “The Best Is the Enemy of the Better.”

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertas — 1776

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