Friday, July 28, 2017

Latest Republican Attempts to Repeal Obamacare Fails

It started to feel like it was a cruel joke, these repeated attempts by Republican lawmakers to try and, once and for all, repeal Obamacare.

For years, they had been relentlessly talking about their determination to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. A few years ago, a Republican measure to repeal Obamacare had actually passed through both the House and the Senate, although that was when President Obama was still in the White House, and everyone knew that he was obviously unlikely to sign into law anything repealing his own signature accomplishment during his term of president. 

So that measure was more symbolic than anything else. It was the equivalent of a friendly game in soccer, which is to say one without any real stakes. Or a preseason game in one of the four major North American team sports, or perhaps a non-title fight, or in the old days of “professional” wrestling. In other words, Republicans were able to bask in the glow of a strictly symbolic victory, but everyone knew that the real test would come if and when Republicans got the White House and both chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  

Well, they indeed got all of that after winning the 2016 election. And their biggest stated priority was to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. They had been talking about it for years, and were determined now to put their words into action. 

Except that as it turned out, they did not have a plan. For all of their talk over the course of years, the GOP never did actually come up with any kind of a plan to replace Obamacare. The House finally came up with one earlier this year, although it seemed a bit rushed. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that some 24 million people would lose their healthcare if this bill passed, and it would make healthcare more expensive and less accessible to most, except for the rich, who benefited from this bill. It was defeated. 

In the meantime, Obamacare's popularity started to grow in the polls, until for the first time in what seemed like forever, a majority of Americans approved of it. This also coincided with strong disapproval of the Republican plans that would supposedly replace Obamacare. Republicans kept working at it, but this became the running theme. 

The House, under Majority Leader Paul Ryan, came up with another plan. This one, too, benefited the rich and hurt everyone else. According to the CBO, an estimated 23 million people would lose their health insurance. Still, the House passed the measure, although it seemed unlikely that the Senate would pass it as it then stood. However, that did not prevent Republicans from gathering on the White House lawn to publicly celebrate, even though this premature celebration was likened to a football team kicking a field goal in the first quarter of a game, and then celebrating wildly, like they had won a championship.

Next, the Senate tried to work a plan that it could force through. They did so in secret, not allowing any details of the plan to be leaked to the public, or even to fellow members of Congress, neither to Democrats nor even to fellow Republicans. They were warned about trying to rush through a deal, that many of their fellow lawmakers refused to vote on a bill that they did not have adequate time to review.  

In the end, they came up with a plan, although once again, this plan looked very flawed from the start. The CBO estimated that now 22 million Americans would lose their health insurance, including well over ten million by next year. Once again, the measure benefited the rich at the expense of everyone else, and healthcare would become more expensive especially for senior citizens. Also, polls showed that a vast majority of Americans disapproved of the bill. In fact, a mere 15 percent of Americans approved of it.

Nonetheless, Republicans tried to force it through. It did not matter to them that it did not have the approval of the American people that they supposedly represented. They had promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and their conservative base promised that they would hold them to task for it. So, they went ahead with the vote. 

And lost. The measure went too far for some more moderate Republicans, but did not nearly go far enough towards repealing Obamacare for hardline conservative Republicans. It went down in flames. 

These were very public failures, which meant that they were costly. Republicans in Congress looked compromised in public, and so perhaps it should serve as no surprise that they would try and try and try again. President Trump urged GOP lawmakers to postpone or even cancel their vacation plans for the summer layover until they could in some way repeal Obamacare. In the meantime, Trump and other Republicans stated that they would allow Obamacare to fail, which was the first time in recent memory that prominent members of government seemed so willing to publicly be in favor of something that would hurt millions of Americans, such as the collapse of the current healthcare system. 

Republicans next tried simply repealing Obamacare, and finding a replacement for it later. This, of course, was not what they had promised to do, and it smacked of desperation. Still, they tried.

And failed. Narrowly, true. But even many GOP lawmakers were uncomfortable with the idea of simply repealing Obamacare without even a replacement plan in place. 

Still, Republicans would not be dissuaded, despite these mounting public failures. They went at it again. Last night, they attempted the so-called "skinny Obamacare" measure, where a long session would be held, and the vote would be cast, while lawmakers on either sides could propose as many amendments to the bill as they wanted.

And it, too, failed. 

Indeed, it did not fail by much. The final vote was 49-51, but that was enough for this latest effort to fall short, as well. 

Once again, the Republicans suffered a very public, and very humiliating, defeat.

The irony was that the deciding vote, for all intents and purposes, was from Senator John McCain of Arizona. The Senate delayed the vote for repeal of Obamacare just a couple of weeks ago, while McCain had to deal with a serious health concern. It turned out that McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer. They praised McCain publicly for his toughness, and proudly boasted of his character and integrity, and his unofficial status as a "maverick." Even President Trump, who had been critical of McCain while running for president, praised him now. Also, they needed his vote, which was not an outright vote to repeal Obamacare as it was to discuss it, and then move towards repealing it.

So they waited, they delayed the vote. It was ultimately defeated, and they kept trying. Now, it turns out the Senator McCain cast what was, for all intents and purposes, the deciding vote against this latest measure to repeal Obamacare. 

It all seems like too much. Their first plan was a disaster, and their second plan was hardly any better, minimizing the estimated number of people who would lose their health insurance from 24 million to 23 million. Even President Trump described this bill as "mean." The Senate GOP leaders who worked on the next incarnation of the GOP bill to repeal and ultimately replace Obamacare narrowed it to some 22 million. All of these failed, and the efforts then shifted to simply repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan, but this was too incomplete for many, and these efforts failed, too. Last night's defeat cemented the failure.

Now, we are left to wonder what will come next. Members of Congress are now going off to recess. They will of course be back, but for all intents and purposes, despite President Trump's urging Congress to stay in Washington until they can replace Obamacare, these efforts look dead in the water, at least for this summer. Will they try again when they come back? Perhaps. Probably, even. However, they once again face the same problem of not having a replacement plan, or at least not one that seems adequate. And surely, their repeated efforts - all of which have failed - have to compromise them on some level. Their conservative base surely is not happy, and obviously, the people who are opposed to repealing Obamacare are also not happy. And they failed, undeniably and repeatedly. These were very public failures, but they felt that they needed to try and repeal Obamacare, even as it turns out, if they had no replacement plan in place. Even when 85 percent of Americans stood opposed to their efforts to simply repeal Obamacare without any kind of replacement plan in place. 

Republicans have now tried and tried and tried again, but they have failed each time. When their votes actually succeeded to pass a measure to repeal Obamacare, it was when they knew full well that President Obama still sat in office, and would obviously veto that legislation, which of course meant that the stakes were not all that high, that it was just symbolic. Once it stopped being symbolic, and real people would be impacted and hurt, even Republican lawmakers hesitated, knowing that they might very well pay the price in future elections. 

All of this makes us wonder what will happen next, because it is unclear. The GOP clearly wants Obamacare repealed, and it seems likely that they will once again attempt to repeal it. However, without a serious plan to replace it that does not hurt tens of millions of Americans and so blatantly benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us, can they actually do so? It seems that even the current incarnation of the GOP - not known for their moderation - have their limits. When you try and cram through something that only has 15 percent approval ratings, you are not simply doing something that benefits the nation or it's people, you are trying to impose a very unpopular measure on them, and this was something very intimate with most, because healthcare affects all Americans. 

The fact of the matter is that all of this underscores exactly how flawed the "for profit" healthcare system is in America. Yes, I have said this before, but it bears repeating: we are the only developed country in the world that fails to provide a universal, affordable healthcare system for it's people. Decades ago, there was another one, but that was South Africa during the days of white minority, apartheid rule, which does not speak highly of our then shared status with it. But since South Africa got rid of apartheid, it to implemented such a healthcare system as other developed nations has, which means that now, we really do stand alone. And here's the thing: not one of those other countries has moved towards repealing their healthcare system, which implies that it works. The people in those countries seem happy with their system, while here in America, it is hard to remember the last time that the healthcare debate was not a prominent and divisive political argument.  

Let us be clear, Obamacare did not resolve all of the country's problems with healthcare. What it did, or what it was, was essentially a move towards putting limits to the formerly limitless "for profit" system, but it certainly remains a "for profit" healthcare system. And it is because it is "for profits" that it continually fails us, because the focus is not on the health of the sick and the elderly, but rather on profits for major healthcare industry corporations, who literally profit from people's pain. Health insurance providers make more profits when they deny people with "pre-existing" conditions, and to bring that fully back would be insanity. And big pharmaceutical corporations make a killing here in the United States, charging whatever they want, because unlike in other countries, there are no price caps to keep these medicines affordable. 

So while Obamacare did not nearly go far enough for my tastes, personally, it was at least a step in the right direction. Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" Obamacare effectively take us backwards, dragging us right back to the days when profits were the only objective for the healthcare system, and taking care of people came in a distant second. While I am critical of Obamacare, replacing it with something that gets rid of all of the improvements and benefits of the system, while bringing back all of the worst excesses of what existed before, would be detrimental to the country and it's people. And again, a mere 15 percent of Americans approved of these Republican plans, which really speaks to just how miserable of a failure these plans were. I would be all in favor of tinkering Obamacare to improve it, as mainstream Democrats were suggesting, although ultimately, if we are to really cover everyone, we would need to get rid of Obamacare in favor of a single-payer healthcare system that covers everyone, as Senator Bernie Sanders has consistently advocated. Anything less will keep this bitter and divisive political argument going. I am glad to see that Republican efforts to bring back the old system, and all of it's failings, have failed. However, we cannot be naive enough to believe that they will not try and try again, which is all the more reason to now push for a major healthcare overhaul from another angle, and to finally bring the United States into the family of nations that embraces a fairer, single-payer healthcare system that will universally cover everyone, and keep costs down, as well. The trick will be to get lawmakers to go with it, because they are effectively spokespeople for major corporations, including the ones who profit from our "for profit" healthcare system. Until that happens, then the healthcare system in this country will always be on the verge of failing and/or collapsing, and sliding back to even worse healthcare systems in our past will continue to be a distinct possibility. And if recent history has shown anything, it is that tens of millions of Americans quite literally cannot afford these flirtations by the GOP to turn back the clock and bring back something that never should have come to be in the first place. 

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