When I was growing up, a frequent trope on television sit-coms was to stage an intervention for characters whose destructive behavior was getting them into trouble. The episode would involve other members of the cast gathering together to show the character with the problem how they were destroying their life with the hope of convincing them to change their ways. This week, as the prospects for repeal and replacement of Obamacare grow ever dimmer, it is time for an intervention for Republicans.
Obamacare cannot be repealed.
There. I’ve said it.
As a popular meme series might put it, “Stop trying to make full repeal happen. It’s not going to happen.” At least for now, this is the hard truth for conservatives.
The truth is that Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal Obamacare. The Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act with 60 votes, enough to end the Republican filibuster two days before Christmas in 2009. Republicans also need 60 votes to stop a Democrat filibuster of a repeal bill. There are 52 Republicans in the Senate. You do the math.
Repealing Obamacare is not mathematically possible without at least eight Democrats crossing the aisle. Reforming Obamacare is possible through a budget reconciliation. That should be our goal. We should be talking about health care reform instead of repeal.
Ted Cruz (R-Texas) advocates the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by President Obama, noting that “Virtually every Republican in Congress voted for that language, and the parliamentarian has already ruled it as permissible.” This bill is also unattainable, however. Cruz fails to note that four Republicans who voted for the 2015 bill now refuse to vote for a bill without a phase out of the Medicaid expansion. The 2015 bill was also not a full repeal.
Otto von Bismarck said that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
That is what Republicans should focus on: What is possible, attainable, and the next best thing to full repeal that can actually pass. That is going to involve the ugly art of compromise. Any bill that can pass is not going to be everything that the conservative and moderate Republicans have on their respective wish lists.
The question for Republicans is this: Is a compromise that reforms Obamacare but falls short of repeal better than leaving the current monstrosity in place in its entirety? The answer should be a resounding “yes!”
Repeal is the ultimate goal, but it is not going to happen within the next two years. The current, short-term goal should be to take baby steps toward fixing the health care mess that Obamacare created. If Republicans can create a policy compromise that makes things better for most Americans, then hopefully voters will trust them with a larger majority in 2018.
Even then, it probably won’t be a slam dunk. Sixty-seat supermajorities don’t come along often. This is especially true for the Republicans who last had 60 seats in 1911. As long as there is a filibuster, compromise and forging bipartisan majorities is going to be necessary to advance conservative legislation.
Conversely, the more dysfunctional the party acts, the less likely voters are to give Republicans more power.
Since the defeat of the AHCA, President Trump has realized that he needs some Democrat votes and has started reaching across the aisle. The question is whether conservative Republicans will be left behind in the new reality or whether they will use their influence to craft the best, most conservative bill that can pass. If conservatives don’t play ball with the “nonpartisan” president, they may well find a new reform law passing that is even less likeable than the AHCA.
There is no honor for Republicans in insisting on a perfect bill that will never become law. There is no honor in killing imperfect bills that can improve the lives of hardworking Americans. The honor for Republicans will be found in coming together and building a bill that both conservatives and moderates can say “yes” to.
Voters did not send Republicans to Washington with a blank checkbook. For better or worse, Republicans were given a slim majority and a president who is not a conservative. No one faction of the party can enforce its will on the others. To accomplish anything, Republicans must learn to work together and get beyond the “just say ‘no’” mentality.
Voters did send Republicans to Congress to fix the Obamacare mess. If the ACA cannot be repealed, then it should be reformed where possible. Republicans should roll up their sleeves and get to work doing just that.