GOP Leaders Mull Giving Up on Obamacare Repeal, Getting Much Else Done in 2018

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Sorry, not going to happen. Photo: 0001561/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just before heading home for the holidays, a group of Republican senators met to strategize on how they would continue pursuing the full repeal of Obamacare in 2018.

“I think we’re all going to say that we ripped the heart out of Obamacare with the individual mandate,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, referring to the provision tucked in the GOP tax bill. “It’s pretty hard to rip the heart out of it and not replace it.”

Even harder: making Mitch McConnell embark on another embarrassing Obamacare repeal push … or any other mortifying legislative crusade.

While there are some conservative groups and Republican senators still clamoring for repeal, the Senate majority leader suggested last month that it wouldn’t be happening, saying, “We’ll probably move on to other issues.”

Now McConnell might be abandoning the maneuver that would allow him to repeal Obamacare, or pursue any other major legislation ahead of the midterms. Politico reports that GOP leaders are considering skipping passage of a budget in 2018. Aside from the embarrassment of failing to pass a budget after years of hounding Senate Democrats for the same thing, that means Republicans would not be able to use reconciliation procedures to pass controversial legislation with just a simple majority.

With the election of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama last month, the Republican majority in the Senate is down to 51. Congress is already consumed by efforts to keep the government open and several other must-pass measures they pushed off to 2018. There was talk of pursuing welfare reform in the new year, but if Democrats have the ability to filibuster that goes from unlikely to impossible. (President Trump reportedly “wants to focus on enacting a massive infrastructure package with help from Democrats,” but the chances of that happening are also slim to none.)

According to The Hill, there was no mention of Obamacare repeal during last weekend’s GOP strategy session at Camp David, and plans for welfare or entitlement reform were drastically scaled back. “It was a little different than what I anticipated,” Senator John Cornyn said. “In other words, it’s not Medicare, Social Security, entitlement reform; it is more, workforce training.”

Though the odds were already against them, some Republicans were dismayed by the report that leaders might abandon reconciliation in 2018. “It’s legislative malpractice to throw reconciliation out the window,” Dan Holler, vice-president of Heritage Action, told Politico.

Most congressional Republicans, however, probably won’t mind that their party won’t be trying to take away people’s health insurance in an election year — especially because the Trump administration can keep undermining the law. A separate Politico report reveals that when the House was making its initial, unsuccessful push to repeal Obamacare in March, top Trump administration officials showed House Freedom Caucus members a one-page list of ten planned executive actions to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. (This was likely the second of three hazy “prongs” that Republicans kept talking about.)

Seven of the policies — including shortening the enrollment period and letting states decide what “essential health benefits” insurers must cover — have already been enacted. The Trump administration has yet to try encouraging states to build less robust insurance exchanges, or restricting health-care providers from steering patients to Obamacare plans instead of Medicaid.

The chaos of the Obamacare-repeal push did not suggest that Trump officials were pursuing a plan as coherent as the one laid out in the document, but it’s clear they’ve been doing whatever they can to undermine the health law. Just last week the Trump administration proposed regulations to weaken Obamacare even further, and Congress doesn’t need to do a thing.

GOP May Abandon ACA Repeal, Getting Anything Done in 2018