Got Skinny Repeal?
Donald Trump discussing with lawmakers on replacing the ACA at the White House, March 2017.
Though the collapse of the seven-year Republican effort to kill off the Affordable Care Act came in one of the most dramatic moments in US Senate history, deeper currents had been running against the Republicans’ serial attempts to repeal Obamacare. The failure was a testament to what can happen when the party taking control of the government seeks to overturn a major advance by the prior administration without any coherent idea of what it will do instead. In their determination to repeal a law greatly expanding the federal government’s commitment to help people obtain decent health care, the Republicans had gotten out of touch with the opinion of the people.
The Republicans had pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act from the moment it was signed into law by Barack Obama in March 2010, and they’d voted again and again to get rid of it—when it didn’t count, since Obama was president and had a veto. But when a Republican—one who had promised to undo the ACA—won the presidency, with both the Senate and the House also in Republican hands, Congress had to deliver. In trying to muscle through a momentous change in the law in ways that would affect tens of millions of people, Republican leaders disregarded the norms of democratic lawmaking. As the August recess beckoned and amid some particularly odd legislative proceedings, the Senate voted down a series of proposals to severely cut back on what had been given to the people seven years before. In the end, the ailing John McCain cast the deciding vote and, along with two other Republicans and a united Democratic Party, delivered a colossal blow to President Trump.
Trump badly needed a victory. Six months into his presidency he hasn’t had a single major legislative achievement. Other Trump priorities—revising the tax code, raising the debt ceiling, passing a budget—have lingered while the health care bill preoccupied Congress. Trump’s infrastructure program, such as it was, has more or less disappeared, despite the administration’s “Infrastructure Week” in early June, which was largely overtaken by fired FBI director James Comey’s testimony on Capitol Hill. Trump’s White House has been a shambles, with its internal warfare increasingly spilling into open ferocity. Moreover, the FBI investigation into his and his campaign’s dealings with Russia in connection with the 2016 election is growing more menacing; the noose is tightening. The distracted president has been hurling insults at his attorney general and hatching plots to get rid of the investigation—a highly dangerous thing for him to try to do.
Numerous critics have said that the White House was unwise to begin its congressional efforts on such a divisive issue as health care.