Congressional Republicans found themselves in a bind. For years, they stood in steadfast resistance to the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare. The House, under Republican control, voted repeatedly to repeal it. Granted, the Senate, under Democratic leadership, never brought any such measure to a (failing) vote, and if they had, through some miracle, passed it, Obama would have vetoed, but still, the Republicans had run for election on repealing Obamacare. Fulminated against it, lied about it, misrepresented it, put all their eggs in that one basket. Never let it be said that they didn’t try! Over and over again, they wasted everyone’s time with this silly symbolic exercise. It never meant a thing. It was just this silly pointless thing they did, like me putting ‘diet and exercise’ on my New Year’s Resolutions. Or a dog chasing a car.
Then suddenly, one day, a health scare, and the doctor was telling me, in all seriousness, dude, diet and exercise; you have to lose a lot of weight fast or you could die. One election, and the state of our nation shifted from ‘peaceful transfer of power after a democratic election’ to ‘on-going national crisis.’ And the Republicans found themselves controlling the House, AND Senate, AND White House, and also, pretty much, the judicial branch as well. The dog caught the car, and suddenly wondered what he was going to do with it. And it turned out, the Republican party was much better at ‘repeal,’ than ‘replace.’
For years, we’d been told of these wonderful conservative, market-oriented alternatives to Obamacare. It turned out, they didn’t exist. Various approaches to repealing and replacing were floated, and just as quickly, shot out of the sky. Republicans, turns out, are great at winning elections. They’re incapable of governing. In fact, most conservatives don’t actually want the government in charge of health care. It’s a commodity; if you can’t afford it, you don’t get it. Various attempts were offered, bills created, and, darn the CBO, vetted. Every one of them would have substantially reduced the numbers of citizens with good health care. Citizens without health insurance get sick or get in accidents at about the same rate as everyone else; without insurance, people can die. And voting margins on these bills were sufficiently narrow that all kinds of legislative hocus-pocus was brought to bear. Bills were rushed through, jammed through, forced down people’s throats. In short, lots of really sucky bills scorched their way through Congress, right up to the point where Congresspeople voted on them. Thousands of people began cramming their way into Congressional constituent meetings, exercising their First Amendment rights to be vocal, contentious and angry. Obamacare is still the law of the land.
President Trump, it turned out, was terrible at working with Congress to get this stuff passed. This is hardly surprising, since Trump is awful at all the other aspects of his job as well, but in this case, his ineptitude combined with Congressional fecklessness to produce no bill, no answers, numerous lies and a thoroughly honked-off populace. So Trump decided to do see what some executive orders might accomplish. Since Obamacare couldn’t be repealed and replaced via legislation, as the Framers intended, Trump cut insurance subsidies, and destabilized insurance markets. He wants Obamacare dead. Or something. It’s hard to tell; he’s given speech after speech that makes it sound like he favors a single-payer system. Or block grants to states. Or witchcraft and wizardry. Or something.
Meanwhile, something weird was happening in the offices and conference rooms of the Senate. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chair and ranking Dem on the Health Committee, were holding hearings, and meeting, and discussing, and trying to figure out a way to fix the real-life actual-factual problems Obamacare did in fact have. And they came up with a bill. Bi-partisan. A compromise. A little bit from the left and a little bit from the right. And it’s not a great bill, but it’s likely to be effective. Turns out, overcoming the partisan divide wasn’t completely impossible. Obamacare can be saved. Regular order works.
It was shocking. And nobody seems to know what to do about it. Trump was startled enough that he initially even seemed to suggest he’d support it. He immediately muddied the waters by saying nine other contradictory things about it, but who knows, he likes signing things. The House didn’t seem to know what to do about it. A few people reflexively made some noises about how this wasn’t ‘repeal and replace.’ It was a fix. The spectacle of two elected officials actually doing their jobs and serving their constituents has taken everyone by surprise. Even the national media didn’t know how to handle it; it was a below-the-fold-page-seven story in the national news.
Meanwhile, Alexander and Murray say they’re lining up co-sponsors, and hope for a Senate vote soon. Like, you know, real Senators. And Nancy Pelosi says she’d love to bring her House caucus aboard. It might, you know, actually pass. I wouldn’t bet my Mom’s pension on it, but stranger things have happened. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?