Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The ObamaCare Republicans

Voters may repeal and replace the Senators who broke their promise.


By The Editorial Board
The Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2017

Senate Republicans killed their own health-care bill on Monday evening, and some are quietly expressing relief: The nightmare of a hard decision is finally over, and now on to supposedly more crowd-pleasing items like tax reform. But this self-inflicted fiasco is one of the great political failures in recent U.S. history, and the damage will echo for years.

The proximate cause of death was Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas linking arms and becoming the third and fourth public opponents. The previous two public holdouts were Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could lose only two GOP Senators. But this defeat had many authors, some of whom are pictured nearby and all of whom hope to evade accountability for preserving the ObamaCare status quo.

But this wasn’t the inevitable result of some tide of progressive history. These were choices made by individuals to put their narrow political and ideological preferences ahead of practical legislative progress. The GOP’s liabilities now include a broken promise to voters; wasting seven months of a new Administration in order to not solve manifest health-care problems; less of a claim to be a governing party; and the harm that these abdications will wreak on the rest of the Republican agenda and maybe their hold on Congress.

***

The ObamaCare Republicans come from both the conservative and moderate wings, but all of these Senators campaigned for nearly a decade on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Now they finally have a President willing to sign literally any bill that lands on his desk, but in the clutch they choked. Some wouldn’t even allow a debate on the floor and the chance to offer amendments.

The ObamaCare Republicans ran on fiscal discipline but they rejected the best chance for entitlement reform in a generation. They campaigned against deficits—and some like Mr. Moran and Nevada’s Dean Heller have endorsed a balanced-budget amendment—yet they dismissed a $1.022 trillion spending cut. They denounced ObamaCare’s $701 billion in tax increases but then panicked over repealing “tax cuts for the rich.”

Conservatives like Ted Cruz and most GOP Senators played constructive roles, but a question for the ages is which cargo cult Messrs. Lee and Paul have joined. They pose as free-market purists but reject progress toward a freer market. Their claim that the bill didn’t do enough to reduce insurance premiums is risible given that Mr. Cruz’s deregulation amendment was adopted and the alternative is ObamaCare’s even higher rates and fewer choices.

Mr. Lee opposed the first draft of the bill in part because it “included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the affluent.” He opposed the new version for “not repealing all of the ObamaCare taxes.”

Messrs. Lee and Paul will try to absolve themselves by voting to move to a debate about straight repeal with no replacement, but no one should believe the ruse. They want to vote against anything that can pass lest they have to take responsibility. By the way, Mr. Lee’s stunt of holding hands with Mr. Moran so neither was the deciding killer vote is a political-evasion classic on par with Arlen Specter voting “not proved” on Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

The same applies to the centrists who behind the scenes formed a death panel for the bill. No concession was ever satisfactory, and their demands watered down reform. Yet they wouldn’t defend their own compromises, or even try to rebut the media-Democratic caricature of the bill as a human-rights violation.

West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito came out against the bill with a statement that began: “As I have said before, I did not come to Washington to hurt people.” Does she honestly think so little of her colleagues, and the party she chose to affiliate with, to insult them so casually? This moral grandstanding would be more persuasive if Ms. Capito hadn’t pledged to “turn the tide from a Washington that tells us who our doctors are and delivers a lower quality of care” at the 2016 GOP convention.

The moderates will now say that failure can be redeemed with bipartisanship, and watching them beg to be rescued by Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will be instructive, not least for exposing the futility of a good-faith health deal. Mr. Schumer will offer to enshrine ObamaCare and bail out the insurance companies in return for Democratic votes. If such a bill did pass the Senate, it would put the House in a bind and make Speaker Nancy Pelosi more likely.

Mr. McConnell says he will hold the repeal-only vote, and Americans should understand that any Senator who votes against moving to the floor is voting to preserve ObamaCare. If the moderates really want a bipartisan solution, they will vote for repeal with a delayed replacement fuse and then try to persuade Democrats. But they don’t want that amount of political responsibility.

***

If the ObamaCare Republicans now get primary opponents, they have earned them. In two weeks nobody will recall this or that grievance about the Senate bill, but GOP voters will wonder about the bill of goods they were sold.

The damage to the GOP’s political image will radiate in ways that are hard to predict. If Republicans can’t be trusted to fulfill a core commitment to voters—whether repeal and replace, or simply to reduce the burden of government—then what is the point of electing Republicans? “Sorry, it was too hard” isn’t a winning 2018 message, and botching health reform will add to the betrayal narrative that has so inflamed conservative politics. In this case the critics will have a point.

Perhaps this Congress can recover with a rewrite of the tax code. But failure tends to compound, and this show of dysfunction will make Senators even edgier about taking difficult votes.

The coming days will see more than a few liberal tributes to the invincibility of the entitlement state, and how Republicans miscalculated by declining to accommodate ObamaCare. Entitlements by their nature are hard to reform once they’ve gained a constituency, but what these odes will omit is how close Republicans came. They had the power to reverse the march toward single-payer health care, and most wanted to use it but were blocked by a few feckless deserters.

The ObamaCare Republicans are betting voters won’t remember, but implosions this consequential take a long time to forget.


Article Link To The WSJ: