Will Obamacare Stay In Place? The AHCA Just Went Down Hard
On Friday, after pledging for seven years to repeal Obamacare, House Republicans failed to pass even a partial repeal bill, with House Republicans pulling the bill at the last minute. This was a major embarrassment for the GOP and President Trump, who'd thrown his weight behind the failed legislation and repeatedly predicted that it would pass. Trumpcare is now dead in the water — but will Obamacare stay in place?
It probably will. I say "probably" because Congress will always have the option of pursuing an Obamacare repeal bill. Even though Trumpcare failed today, House Republicans could tweak the legislation and try to pass it again, or pursue a completely new Obamacare repeal bill. Those options will always be there, at least from a procedural standpoint.
But none of that is likely to happen. For all intents and purposes, Obamacare repeal is dead, and the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.
First of all, Trump made it clear to Republicans on Thursday that if Friday's vote failed, he'd no longer pursue Obamacare repeal. And he's probably telling the truth. Although he campaigned on repealing Obamacare, this was never one of Trump's signature issues, and from an ideological standpoint, he's certainly not a died-in-the-wool conservative on healthcare policy. In fact, he used to support universal health care, a phrase that's anathema to the modern-day GOP.
Moreover, the New York Times reported on Thursday that trying to repeal Obamacare right out of the gate wasn't even Trump's idea, and that he now regrets agreeing to it (White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the latter report in a press conference Friday). And lastly, every day Congress spends trying to pass an Obamacare repeal bill is a day it's not spending on projects Trump cares much more about like, a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
So, that's the first reason Obamacare repeal is probably dead: The president is no longer spending his political capital on it. The second, much bigger reason is that Congressional Republicans are seemingly incapable of coming to an agreement on what Obamacare repeal should look like. After all, that's the whole reason today's vote failed: Even with a large majority, House Republicans were unable to write a bill that could pass the chamber. They simply don't have the numbers. And the same goes for the Senate, where the bill — had it advanced that far — would have faced even steeper odds than in the House.
This points to the broader long-term reason why Obamacare is probably here to stay. At its essence, the Affordable Care Act is a major welfare program, and the United States has never repealed a big welfare program after passing it. Republican voters may dislike big government programs in theory, yet many of them have benefited from Obamacare's reforms. Voters don't like having government benefits taken away from them, even when they don't fully understand how those benefits work or where they're coming from.
Nothing is preventing Congressional Republicans from taking another swing at repealing Obamacare. But if they couldn't rally the votes to make it happen now — with a freshly-minted Republican president and majorities in both chambers of Congress — there's no reason to think they'll be able to in the future. In all likelihood, the Affordable Care Act is here for good. Thanks, Obama!