Health Care

The GOP Senate Takes a Swing at ObamaCare

The House had its turn, and now the upper chamber takes a crack. It's both disappointing and a first step.

Michael Swartz · Jun. 23, 2017

Practically from the day the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — much more well-known as ObamaCare — was signed into law by its namesake, Republicans in the House proposed bill after bill to repeal it. As a campaign issue, opposition to government intrusion into health care propelled the GOP to a smashing, Tea Party-aided victory in the 2010 midterm elections that put them back in control of the House of Representatives, where they could then pass those ObamaCare repeal bills they had proposed.

Unfortunately, those repeal bills ran into the predictable roadblock of Democrat leader Harry Reid in the Senate, so the excuses began: We only control one-half of one-third of the government, they told us. True enough — House Republicans could do little to overcome the Senate or Barack Obama’s veto. Yet once the actual ObamaCare law took full effect, Americans learned that not only would we not be able to keep our doctors and our plans as promised, but that $2,500 per family in promised savings was a fantasy as well. The GOP told us they’d repeal ObamaCare if only they had control of the Senate, too — which voters delivered to them in 2014.

Still, frustration with the system boiled over, and the much-predicted ObamaCare death spiral began. Yet even as insurers bolted from failing state insurance exchanges, participants’ premiums and deductibles surged ever higher, and an increasing number of people decided the tax penalty was less onerous than staying with health insurance that cost thousands of dollars a month out-of-pocket, Republicans found themselves with a 2016 presidential candidate who criticized ObamaCare but favored many of its provisions. As president, Donald Trump has been less than helpful in crafting legislation — he threatened House conservatives for opposing the House bill and celebrated the bill in a Rose Garden ceremony, but then called that same bill “mean” when talking to the Senate.

Once the party of limited government, Republicans are now cowed by the Left’s charge that they “sabotaged” ObamaCare, and they appear unable to live up to their repeated promise of repealing this onerous legislation.

In March, the House made its first attempt at reform. It didn’t even get a floor vote, although a modified version 2.0 barely passed a month later. It was something, albeit unimpressive. The Senate then turned up its nose at the House version and drew up its own plan, which they revealed yesterday.

Unless you’re a serious policy wonk, it’s doubtful you’ll read the entire 140-plus pages of this “discussion draft.” With the possible exception of senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat whose state went all-in for Donald Trump, we can expect uniform Democratic hysteria. Not that their caterwauling means anything, because Republicans are considering this measure via reconciliation rules, meaning a simple majority is all they need. So the fate of the Senate version would seem to rest on perhaps a half-dozen senators who are either at the moderate center or farthest right on the GOP spectrum.

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson have announced they “are not ready to vote for this bill,” though they’re “open to negotiation.”

While some believe this bill is a modest step in the right direction, many observers give the Senate proposal a thumbs-down. “With this bill, Senate Republicans are betraying the promises they made on the campaign trail for the better part of seven years,” writes analyst Sally Pipes. “If it passes, the GOP will have cemented the basic architecture of Obamacare into place — wittingly or not.” She notes that the Senate bill preserves most of the premium subsidies and Medicaid handouts to states, with cuts in the latter not taking effect until the out years beyond this election cycle. Yet Elizabeth McKee of Americans for Tax Reform, also writing in the Washington Examiner, praises the Senate bill for all the tax breaks it gives to middle-class families hit hard by the myriad hidden taxes in ObamaCare.

It’s worth noting that one major victory would be the elimination of the utterly rotten individual mandate — which requires Americans to purchase health insurance under penalty of law.

Lost in the translation, however, are some other ideas that Republicans promised to look into when repealing ObamaCare, such as tort reform. Tweaking around the edges isn’t going to rework a system that gets bogged down in defensive medicine, increasing time and expense just to guard against a malpractice suit.

A key difference in the approaches taken by the GOP Congress and their Democrat counterparts from eight years ago is the rush that the Republicans seem to be in to get this bill through. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to take this bill from “discussion draft” to floor vote before the Senate leaves on its Independence Day recess. And while we’re not talking about the 2,000-plus mind-numbing pages in the ObamaCare bill, the GOP version is still 140 pages. Democrats have harped on the bill being crafted in secret, which Republicans themselves once decried when Democrats did the same thing concocting ObamaCare. Now that the GOP plan is out, the focus seems to be on the Medicare cuts that actually are several years removed from being a reality — but which make for good Demo talking points to spoon-feed the mob.

In a perverse way, the Left should be pleased with the damage they’ve done. The argument is no longer about whether health care should be an entitlement for everyone, but only how we pay for it. When Republicans concede the point about extending personal health insurance subsidies well up the income ladder to the fringes of the white-collar class, that battle is lost. When the insurance industry is so dependent on the decisions of Uncle Sam that they stop selling policies in certain areas because there’s no guarantee they’ll be made whole if they lose money, we’ve shifted from a capitalistic free market to a con game in which the American taxpayer is the mark.

All that being said, is it too much to ask Republicans to go to bat and deliver on seven years of promises?

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