COLUMN: With health bill failure, Obama legacy remains
The political reports of late have often brought news that, at best, can be reduced to a heavy sigh — and at worst, a minor heart attack. However, for Democrats, independents, moderate Republicans and other generally sane individuals everywhere, March 24 was a glorious day: Moments before it was about to hit the (killing) floor, House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump pulled their “repeal and replace” plan, known as the American Health Care Act, off the docket and into the trash bin.
It was the first Democratic victory in months; it was also a cornerstone in history, most significant for none other than former President Barack Obama. More than a predictable failure of the GOP (despite long-sought, hard-fought — or perhaps, hard-gerrymandered— majorities in both houses of Congress), the inability of the Art of the Deal author to sell Republican health care to Republicans may represent the cementation of Obama’s legacy in the annals of post-Cold War politics.
The failure of the bill was entirely predictable. Obama and his aides, experts, legislators and consultants spent a full 13 months working through the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act to create a piece of legislation that was moderate, appropriate and workable. The Affordable Care Act was written, researched and peer-reviewed the way health care reform legislation should be — and even then, it was imperfect legislation. (Don’t get me wrong — it was also the imperfect legislation that gave millions of Americans the health care they had never been able to afford, lowered premiums for millions more and expanded coverage to those with disabilities, preexisting conditions and outlying needs.)
Trumpcare, if you will, was a rushed hodgepodge thrown together in a matter of weeks. Ryan, its author, was supposed to be the GOP’s leading policy professor. The legislation was not only, as Trump would say, “sad,” — but according to Ryan’s own conservative peers, the bill was also “a policy, process, and political disaster” as stated by Michael Needham, head of the ultra-conservative Heritage Action. In short, Ryan revealed his fearsome policy chops to be nothing but a paper tiger.
Second, this predictable failure is a crushing wound for a party that recently self-identified as having been an “opposition” party for the last eight years. A cornerstone of that opposition was always the hearty promise to repeal the ACA. Even with eight years to dream up a workable alternative, the GOP dawdled and ended up with a half-baked plan that would have left 24 million taxpaying Americans uninsured and millions more with crippled and inadequate health care.
Of course, Trump and his party immediately turned around and blamed it on the Democrats. But congressional Republicans never even got around to reaching across the aisle. They couldn’t even whip their own votes — a sad reality for the party famous for its lock-step loyalty. One Alabama congressman called it “more bad policy than any bill I have ever faced.” Of course, screaming mad constituents breaking down the doors at town halls to preserve their health care doesn’t exactly inspire a “yes” vote from any reasonable congressman. Factionalism was certainly a factor. Ryan later seemed to haphazardly blame the Freedom Caucus. But what does it say about your policy when even people who don’t understand the concept of taxes think your bill is ridiculous?
Third, and my most favorite part: the astonishingly bipartisan, modest, pouty aftermath. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus decided it was time to reach across the aisle to moderate Democrats; Ryan himself said that Americans would be “living with Obamacare for the forseeable future.” Trump decided healthcare was now the Democrats’ responsibility.
In summary: With both houses of Congress and the White House, with eight years as the “opposition party” (cue the laughter, again), with the reins in the hands of policy guru Ryan and with time, tide and approval on their side, the GOP could not dismantle the ACA. Even their attempt to do so came with a “replace” addendum. Luckily, this suggests national health care as a social notion and as a policy is here to stay. It means that Obama’s greatest legacy — Obama’s cornerstone of American health care and progressive social legislation — will in all likelihood remain on the books to serve millions of Americans for years to come.
Ryan and Trump’s preparation and strategy were terrible, and their inability to support their own legislation casts major shadows on Ryan’s policy mojo and Trump’s dealmaking magic. Once Republicans — from simple voters to senators — realized the extent of the ACA — its widespread positive impact, its integrality to the framework of American health care and its necessity for the maintenance of an industrialized and advanced society — good old “Obamacare” suddenly became a lot harder to destroy. So kitesurf your heart out, our dearly-missed former president; your legacy remains intact — hopefully, for years to come.
Lily Vaughan is a sophomore majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs every Friday.