Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Obamacare wins again, repealers can't deliver garbage

This is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) hugging Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the last Republican Senator whose opposition sealed the defeat of Graham-Cassidy. Obamacare repeal efforts now hit the Sept. 30 deadline for passing the bill with 50 votes.

It's worth saying a little about how we got here. Many Republicans claimed that Obamacare cost too much, while Trump promised more generous coverage that would cost more. Some attacks on Obamacare (death panels!) didn't point at anything it was actually doing.

After winning elections with incoherent policy proposals and straw-man arguments, Republicans were committed to passing incoherent legislation that eliminated nonexistent policies. They tried to introduce repeal-branded legislation that their base could be misled into thinking of as doing everything, but they could never get 50 of their 52 Senators behind a bill.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan now find themselves in a trap of their own making. Instead of compromising with Obama, they made really bad arguments against his policies. Now they have to follow through with really bad legislation that can't actually make it through Congress. And it only gets worse from here. Since the base has seen that they can't deliver, their people are losing primaries (Luther Strange) or retiring for fear of losing primaries (Bob Corker).

The runup to passing Obamacare was very different. Democrats had spent the 2008 primary achieving consensus about a basic structure for the plan (insurance regulations + individual mandate + subsidies). Yale's Jacob Hacker wrote it up for a labor-union think tank, Edwards introduced it in early 2007, Clinton copied it that August, and the party as a whole adopted it as a model after Obama won. As a moderately high-profile John Edwards volunteer, I spent a lot of 2007 arguing for the plan on the internet and face-to-face with other Democrats. An entire caucus of 60 eventually lined up to get a version of the plan through the Senate, breaking a Republican filibuster.

I know it often doesn't seem this way in politics, but there are advantages to not saying total garbage. Then you don't have to promise garbage and write garbage legislation that Susan Collins can't bring herself to support. Your base doesn't ask, "You promised me garbage, now I want it, where is my garbage?" and get furious because you didn't deliver the garbage.