So now we hear that Republicans, reeling from the embarrassing retreat they were forced to make in late March from the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, are back at it.
GOP movers and shakers are working the back rooms in an attempt to fix or re-jigger the already notorious American Health Care Act, with all sides making demands at the same time. This, as they try to douse the flames of bridges burned in the wake of their initial failure. And it’s in sharp contrast to the run-up of the scheduled vote on the first bill when Republicans of all stripes were very public in their harsh criticism of the bill. Once Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was forced to withdraw the bill before it came to a vote, the president behaved in true Trumpian fashion, saying in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal that he holds nothing against the GOP opponents of the bill, but then mean-tweeting the conservative House Freedom Caucus days later.
Importantly, the Club for Growth, the organization which serves as the gold standard for economic conservatives and a vocal opponent of the initial bill, has mostly given the new bill – as it stands today – its seal of approval. This serves as the permission concept – or political cover – for members of the House Freedom Caucus, who were blamed in most quarters for deep-sixing the measure last month. Their support is based on a compromise allowing individual states to request waivers from the costly regulations included in the new legislation.
But there are at least three problems in this process: First, there is no guarantee enough conservatives will finally support the new bill; second, Speaker Ryan has yet to throw his support behind the effort; and third, moderate Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a strong ally of President Trump as the first member of the House to support his presidential bid, indicated on Wednesday that talks have broken down over moderate opposition to this waiver provision.
Vice President Mike Pence has been the master of detente in this revived push for healthcare reform, serving as an intermediary between the GOP leadership, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the moderate Tuesday Group. But as much as Pence represents integrity in the eyes of most all congressional Republicans, he faces the same roadblocks as in the first go-round.
As indicated by the reaction to adding the state-by-state waiver process, the problem is similar to that of a boat taking on water in the bow and the stern. Once you repair the hole in the bow, the stern becomes an even bigger problem, and vice-versa. Many conservatives may be brought on board in an attempt to reach the magic 216 votes to pass the bill, but just as many moderates are likely to stiffen their opposition.
As per the latest report of a breakdown in the talks – which will prevent a resolution before the upcoming Easter congressional recess – this revival of the intra-party healthcare debate has already been something of a rollercoaster. This is due to reports alternately indicating that real progress has been made and that discussions have stalled or hit roadblocks.
One way or another, the revival of this legislative push is an unexpected development. Most observers expected Republicans to lick their wounds after the defeat of AHCA, and to wait a good long time before revisiting the issue. This surprising effort to double down so quickly indicates, if nothing else, that Republicans recognize they were too damaged from their failure last month to simply let the issue go, or just kick the can down the road. And they recognize that, even though it was Democrats who foisted Obamacare upon the country, it is they – the GOP – which will likely be blamed for its near-certain collapse.
But at least this time, whatever differences continue to exist between the various factions of the Republican party in the process — it will likely be played out behind closed doors instead of the public stage, where recent history has demonstrated little good can come of it.
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