In politics, there are some occasions when politicians are so far out on the positon limb that there’s no climbing back. So the only way to try to avoid have everything tumbling down is to obfuscate, deflect, dodge and twist themselves into a pretzel to try to make sense. Such is the case with the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress who support the “replace and repeal” legislation. (There’s no ready-made name for it since Trump doesn’t want his name on it. Speaker Paul Ryan says he is “encouraged” with it.)
Reporters have spent the last few weeks—and with more intensity in the last hours—trying to get an answer to a simple question: Since the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has now said 14 million people could lose their government-subsidized health insurance next year and 24 million by 2026, how can Republicans say Americans will be better off under their plan?
New Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price tried to demonize the CBO.
Price is in a jam because Keith Hall, an accomplished number cruncher and the director of the CBO, was appointed by John Boehner at the behest of Tom Price when he headed the House budget committee. Awkward? Party of one?
The White House has been laying the groundwork for Monday’s news by trying to discredit the CBO before it ever issued its report.
Tuesday morning, Republicans seemed to have moved off their “the CBO sucks” strategy to claiming that asking about 24 million people losing their insurance is the wrong question. They are trying to sell us on the thought that just because there is no longer a mandate doesn’t mean people who are one Medicaid will quit Medicaid.
That statement does make some sense but ignores the fact that the Medicaid expansion is being slowly rolled back by 2020. That, by definition, means people will get booted off Medicaid. The tax credits being offered in place of current subsidies (a piece that is strongly opposed by far-right conservatives) won’t be enough for many people to buy insurance on the open market.
Price, meanwhile, may have stepped into his own version of “if you like you doctor, you can keep your doctor” moment.
So how do Republican supporters of the plan sell this mess back home? At its very base, the following is true: when you take something away from people they are very happy with, you better have a damn good reason. Providing a huge tax break for the very wealthy and bringing down the deficit isn’t a good enough reason.
Another irony is the fact that many of the people whose health insurance would be at risk under this plan are people in states that voted for President Trump. It’s going to be a tough sell to them.
The intense reaction to the CBO score makes it improbable that the this so-called “repeal and replace” plan will pass Congress. Right now, it looks like it’s a tough sell in the House and a near-impossible one in the Senate unless it’s changed substantially. But it’s near impossible to change it to placate enough legislators. Conservatives don’t think the plan doesn’t go far enough in eviscerating Obamacare and Democrats are outraged that it goes as far as it does.
The bottom line is that Republicans had seven and half years to come up with a better plan. So far, they’ve failed.