The Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 24 million people will lose health coverage by 2026 under the Republican health-care plan has kicked off a new phase in the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare: the hunt for a scapegoat. Vice-President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill trying to rally support for the health-care bill, but more and more Republicans are coming out against the current version of the legislation — and pointing fingers at each other.
The most obvious target is the man behind the bill, which fails to achieve the Republicans’ contradictory goals for the health-care system. Breitbart’s escalating attacks on House Speaker Paul Ryan have added fuel to suspicions that chief strategist Steve Bannon hasn’t given up on his goal of ending Ryan’s career.
But as the Washington Post notes, Breitbart is far from the only conservative outlet bashing “Ryancare.” Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy even published a piece urging President Trump to abandon the current bill on Tuesday (though he went with the less catchy moniker “Ryan Plan II”).
“Trump figures things out pretty quickly, and I think he’s figuring out this situation, how the House Republicans did him a disservice,” said Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump’s. “President Trump is a big-picture, pragmatic Republican, and unfortunately the Ryan Republican plan doesn’t capture his worldview.”
Even Republicans who don’t consider Ryan the “enemy” have expressed alarm about the American Health Care Act. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that at least a dozen Senate Republicans, “including some who had previously kept a low profile in the health debate,” have expressed serious doubts about the legislation making its way through the House. The report poured cold water on the theory that passage in the House would build enough momentum to get the AHCA though the Senate. Republicans can’t afford to lose more than two Senate votes.
Since the senators’ objections range from concerns about depriving millions of affordable health insurance to claims that the bill’s tax credits amount to “a Republican welfare entitlement,” it seems modifying the legislation would only alienate another GOP faction.
According to the Huffington Post, Republicans may already be giving up on getting AHCA passed in the Senate.
“The focus of House leadership has been more about getting a bill out of the House that is unchanged and in keeping with the Better Way plan, instead of truly seeing to potential roadblocks that exist in the House and Senate,” said a Republican House member.
The Trump administration is said to be considering moving the bill to the right to appease the Freedom Caucus. The thinking is that moderates may be willing to get on board if they think AHCA will fail in the Senate anyway. Their vote would be merely another declaration of their opposition to Obamacare, and the Senate would be accused of dropping the ball.
One senior House aide was already calling out senators who claim to oppose the AHCA from the right, saying they’re actually opposed to the bill because Obamacare worked in their states.
“The question people should be looking at is whether Republican senators like Tom Cotton and Rand Paul are actually interested in repealing Obamacare, or whether they’re sabotaging this to preserve the Medicaid expansion in their states,” said the aide. “These senators masquerading with conservative objections are too afraid to admit they want to keep Obamacare.”
Of course, as President Trump has stated several times, the Republicans’ preferred “Plan B” is to keep blaming Senate Democrats. As the Huffington Post notes, there’s a major flaw in that strategy:
If Trump and some Republicans now think their best course of action is to do nothing and continue blaming problems with the health-care system on Democrats, then perhaps the best cover they can offer their members is to move a GOP bill out of the House, watch it die in the Senate, and then spend the next two years blaming Senate Democrats in states that Trump won.
In that scenario, voters fail to recognize that Republicans have the power to pass this bill without a single Democratic vote, and the ire over Obamacare doesn’t dissipate even though voters have seen the GOP alternative.
Will voters remember that Trump promised an Obamacare replacement “that’s going to be better health care for more people at a lesser cost,” then failed to put much energy into crafting that plan? Maybe, but blaming other people for his mistakes happens to be one of his strong suits.