GOP May Be Its Own Worst Enemy On Health Care

by Jon Hecht
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, after seven years of vague promises, we finally got a look at the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Democrats quickly panned the plan. Their biggest critiques included that it limits subsidies for poorer and sicker people buying health insurance, cuts taxes on the wealthy, and replaces the individual mandate with a penalty paid to insurers if you buy insurance for the first time after lacking it for an extended period of time.

But of all the commentary on the American Health Care Act bubbling up around the political water cooler, perhaps the most scathing take-downs of House Republicans' health reform plans came not from partisan Democrats, but from conservatives. The House bill retains the basic structure of Obamacare, meaning that for conservatives who want a true free-market replacement, this new plan probably doesn't go nearly far enough.

Writing for Reason, Peter Suderman hit the nail on the head: "[I]t's not clear what constituency this bill is designed to satisfy, aside from Republican congressional leadership. It doesn't go far enough for conservatives, but may not be generous enough to appease more moderate Republicans either."

Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner, who literally wrote the book on conservative healthcare policy, bashed the Republican bill: "In releasing their healthcare plan on Monday, House Republican leaders sent a signal loud and clear: liberalism has already won." In the Federalist, Christopher Jacobs reported on potential hidden problems in the House bill that could lead to businesses dropping employees from their health plans.

Conservative-leaning writers are bashing the Republican healthcare bill like they're Democrats. One Democratic pollster, Matt McDermott, took apparent glee in watching this dynamic play out for a conservative commentator:

By Tuesday morning, the attacks on the AHCA bill from the right escalated to many of the most important conservative think tanks and political action groups:

Throughout all of this, opposition in Congress, not only among Democrats, but among Republicans in both the House and the Senate, grew.

Republican attempts to fulfill their promise to "repeal and replace Obamacare" are off to a terrible start. Healthcare reform is, as President Trump was surprised to learn, "so complicated," and with Republicans only holding 52 seats in the Senate and forced to follow certain procedural rules to prevent a filibuster, passage of even the best bill was sure to be difficult. But it's nearly unprecedented for this kind of refutation to sprout up against a major legislative priority, not only from the opposition, but from the party in power.

Politics is the art of compromise, and by definition, compromise means passing a bill that nobody is fully happy with. But this bill is special — barely anyone seems to prefer it to the status quo.

In the meantime, that status quo — the Affordable Care Act — has gotten more popular than any time since its passage.

In order to beat back polls that are turning against them, they need strong advocates for a policy that isn't yet popular. But with many top Republicans, conservative commentators, and conservative political advocacy groups not ready to do that, it's hard to see how the Republicans convince anyone that they want this bill.