Littwin: Half-baked plan dies over twice-baked potato
Fair and Unbalanced
The defeat was, of course, humiliating — for Donald Trump, for Paul Ryan, for every Republican who had ever promised to repeal Obamacare, meaning every Republican not named Lincoln.
It was, after all, a defeat that will launch a thousand is-Trump-tired-of-winning-yet tweets.
It was a defeat that punctuates, with an exclamation point, the long string of defeats, nearly all of them self-inflicted, that have marked Trump’s first two months in office — from the first week wasted in debating his inaugural crowd size to the past few weeks wasted in cajoling and threatening and Mar-a-Lagoing his way to a defeat on Trump/Ryancare.
But this was mostly a defeat for a party that had defined itself in opposition to Obamacare. For seven long years, Republicans had vowed to rid America of this scourge. For seven long years, they had campaigned against the plan, winning the House, the Senate and the presidency in the process. For seven long years, they contended they had something better to offer. The House voted more than 60 times to repeal Obamacare, and when they finally had a president who would sign repeal legislation, they had nothing. Actually, what they had was worse than nothing.
It was a given that Donald Trump would have no plan. He promised something beautiful that would cover everybody, but anyone paying attention knew that his secret health care plan was no more credible than his secret plan to defeat ISIS. Trump doesn’t do policy. He said, to his embarrassment, that no one (meaning him) had any idea that health care was so complicated. You could almost laugh if it weren’t for the millions of lives at stake.
But then there was Speaker Paul Ryan, the great right conservative hope whose ideas, we’ve been told, would reshape the nation. Trump punted to Ryan, and Ryan promptly fumbled.
Ryan didn’t just fail. Since he had never bothered, in seven long years, to prepare a viable real-world health care plan, he had to cobble one together in days. Trump wouldn’t wait. After all, the president had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare immediately after taking office. Ryan’s plan was so poorly conceived that it was opposed by doctors, by hospitals, by think tanks, by left, by right, by virtually everyone.
Where to begin? As the Congressional Budget Office scoring noted, the plan would rob 24 million Americans of coverage, and that was basically the game. But there’s more. And less. It would rob $880 billion from Medicaid, a program Trump had promised would go untouched. It would allow insurance companies not to provide essential health benefits in their plans, as in essential health benefits. It would literally, as the Congressional Budget Office also pointed out, take money from the poor and the elderly to give to the rich and the healthy. It would remove the hated mandate — and replace it with a 30 percent penalty for those whose insurance is discontinued, with that 30 percent going to, yes, insurance companies. No wonder no one liked it.
But even worse than the Trump/Ryancare plan and even worse than its defeat was the post-humiliation analysis from the leading parties themselves. Donald Trump, whose party has a 44-vote majority in the House, blamed the defeat on — wait for it — Democrats, who, shockingly, didn’t contribute a single vote to the cause of dismantling their most significant legislative achievement of the past decade.
This is what Trump told The Washington Post’s Bob Costa in his first interview after he pulled the bill: “Hey, we could have done this,” he said. “But we couldn’t get one Democrat vote, not one. So that means they own Obamacare, and when that explodes they will come to us wanting to save whatever is left, and we’ll make a real deal.”
It was strange enough that Trump’s first two phone calls after the debacle were to the enemies of the people, The Washington Post and to The New York Times. Stranger still was his position to walk away from healthcare altogether. “Enough already,” he said. Sean Spicer said Trump had “left it all out there on the field,” but Obamacare took many months to complete. Trump/Ryancare went down in weeks. Trump barely made it out of the locker room.
Where, you ask, was the self-described closer who won the presidency on the notion that he alone can make the deals that will fix our dysfunctional system? He, alone, did try for a while, but he couldn’t sell the plan to his own party because 1) factions of his party violently disagree; 2) he had no idea of the details of his own plan; 3) he threatened that it was this plan or nothing; 4) after conceding issue after issue to the right-wing Freedom Caucus, they still wouldn’t vote with him.
So now Trump says he’ll wait for Democrats to come begging, which is apparently his entire Plan B. Meanwhile, he’ll do his best to sabotage Obamacare, which covers millions of citizens of the country he leads. You could almost call it a betrayal of the American people, but, fortunately for Trump, the FBI already has other possible betrayals to investigate.
Then there was a humbled Ryan, who said Obamacare was the law “for the foreseeable future.” He also conceded that Republicans were still learning how to govern. It was good of him to admit this, but it was a gift to Democrats, just as the failure to repeal Obamacare was a gift. Ask Mike Coffman, who supported the plan because he didn’t have the nerve to do anything else and will now be facing ready-made attack ads in 2018 for his troubles.
When Ryan came to the Oval Office to tell the president they didn’t have the votes, Trump was, naturally, upset. He had assumed Republicans would fold before his deal-making prowess. When they didn’t, he told Ryan he wanted the vote to proceed anyway. He wanted revenge against those who dared to oppose him. He wanted names named.
Over a lunch of chicken, brussels sprouts and twice-baked potatoes — as The New York Times reported — Ryan begged him to pull the plan, arguing that a vote would compound the GOP disaster. Trump finally relented — presumably it was the potatoes — telling Ryan he could pull the doomed bill.
Let it be noted: It was the closest either Trump or Ryan came to victory all day.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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