For months, I’ve been watching in a sort of wonder as Republicans crafted the most unpopular major bill in living memory. Could they really mean to make a suicide charge at this — not some longstanding Republican goal, like dismantling the welfare state or slashing through the regulatory thicket, but pushing a sly parody of Obamacare even less likable than its awkward source material?
When Republicans explained how this would actually be a strong campaign strategy for 2018, I had astonished flashbacks to Democrats saying the same thing in 2010… and wondered when it was that people in Washington started believing their own press releases. Were we really due for the Republican version of the 2010 Democratic lemming run?
No, apparently not. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has always been the man to watch on this bill, the bellwether who was ultimately going to lead the Senate one way or the other. Yesterday, he announced that he would vote no on the Motion to Proceed, which translated from the original Parliamentarian, means that this bill is not going anywhere. Requiescat in Pace.
On both a political and a policy level, this choice is sensible, even though it leaves Republicans in a tough place. The exchanges in many states have been troubled for years, and those troubles will now deepen as insurers wonder what the heck Obamacare is going to look like in a year or two. The only saving grace for Republicans is that if and when those exchanges fall into a deep decline, they will still be able to assign some of the blame to Democrats for their original sin in passing Obamacare.
For those facing election in 2018, that is good news, I suppose. The bad news is that those exchanges are still in trouble, and Republicans are going to take a hefty share of the blame if something isn’t done about them. And Republicans are no closer to a consensus on what to do than they were six months ago.
This should also give pause to Democrats who want to cheer “Obamacare is saved!” Obamacare is now in worse shape than ever. And Obamacare was not exactly in good shape before. Obamacare was, in fact, wheezing and sweat-soaked every time it had to walk from the couch to the fridge.
Time has not been kind to its individual market provisions, and now even more regulatory uncertainty surrounds the program. While Republicans deserve some of the blame for this state of affairs, Democrats cannot evade a much fuller measure of responsibility, because most of the program’s problems are congenital, not lifestyle-induced.
Consider what would have happened if Democrats had followed the Republican Party’s sterling example of political expedience: They would have scaled back to a more modest ambition, probably a Medicaid expansion, while keeping their hands off the individual market. Since most of Obamacare’s coverage gains came from the Medicaid expansion, they could have gotten a substantial portion of the coverage gains that the law achieved.