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Todd Johnson / May 5, 2017

The House GOP Moves the Ball Forward

The ObamaCare repeal bill isn't even close to a touchdown, but it's a good start. Now it's the Senate's turn.

As expected, the lead story coming out of Washington, DC, yesterday was the Republicans’ passage of a bill in the House of Representatives to replace the grossly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As with all legislation, there were winners and losers and Thursday’s activity was no different. The major victors included not only President Donald Trump but also Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every GOP member of Congress who has campaigned against ObamaCare since it was first passed without a single Republican vote in March 2010.

The significance of the House’s bill cannot be understated for the Republican Party — it marks the first time that the House majority has been able to pass substantial legislation during Donald Trump’s presidency. The rocky path of the American Health Care Act is incredible considering that the first version of the bill didn’t even make it to the House floor for debate and a vote but a scant five weeks ago. It’s also important to note that Republicans had to start somewhere on undoing the damage inflicted by ObamaCare. The bill isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Yesterday’s accomplishment is, as Paul Ryan stated, the first step in the process of making it happen.

The bill repeals many portions of ObamaCare, as The Hill reports, “including its subsidies to help people get insurance coverage, expansion of Medicaid, taxes and mandates for people to get coverage.”

However — you had to know there was going to be a “however” — lost in the euphoric shuffle of many Republican supporters is that yesterday’s triumph is somewhat of a tainted political win for the Party. It only occurred after the Republican leadership violated some of its core principles, and it keeps large portions of ObamaCare’s structure in place.

Many Republican and Democrat voters and legislators were dismayed that the full bill was only made available for public viewing at 8:00 p.m. the night prior to the vote, that hearings and debate were limited on a topic that encompasses one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and that the bill was not scored by the Congressional Budget Office prior to going to the floor.

Given how Republicans justifiably excoriated Democrats for the exact same things in 2010, that particularly stings.

While the passage of the bill was a milestone on the road to full repeal, the question for many supporters is, “At what cost?” Few expect the newly passed legislation to have a chance in its current form in the Senate. As Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch said in a statement, “We will be working to put together a package that reflects our members’ priorities with the explicit goal of getting 51 votes.”

Translation: Thanks, but we’ll do our own thing.

Which is why the “celebration” at the White House Rose Garden was very interesting to watch. We understand that President Trump and the GOP leadership were excited to have the bill pass, but yesterday’s display by the House caucus was akin to a marathoner celebrating at the 13-mile mark or a running back doing a touchdown dance at the 50-yard line. There’s an awfully long way to go in the process.

That said, could it be that Trump and his team were using the celebration to put pressure on the Senate? If repeal is going to happen, Trump is going to have to lead and get the American people on board. Otherwise, skittish senators are unlikely to stick out their necks. Perhaps this Rose Garden celebration was step one in that process.

Another aspect of yesterday’s activity, the narrow margin of victory 217-213, reflects a Republican Party still coming to grips with how to leverage its power in the lower house. Many “moderate” Republicans who voted repeatedly for repeal while Barack Obama was there to veto it are now opposed to repeal when it can actually be accomplished. The defection of many “centrist” Tuesday Group Republican lawmakers, including moderates from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio, is a sign to party leadership that future legislation covering individual and corporate tax reform, as well as infrastructure spending, is going to be a challenge.

In short, the GOP has not coalesced into a unified, cohesive unit and the roll call reflects a political group still searching for an identity. How leadership handles these recalcitrant members will determine the success or failure of the First Session of the 115th Congress.

Life is all about managing expectations, especially when it comes to politics. Republican leadership would be wise to heed these words as they try to repeal ObamaCare fully. No one denies that Obama’s signature piece of legislation has been incredibly flawed and that it has created a considerable amount of confusion since it was signed into law. The Republican Party had seven years to put together a plan and yesterday’s efforts fell way short of ideal. But it’s a start. Only time will tell whether it will be considered the foundation a Pyrrhic victory or a substantial triumph.

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