Republicans privately admit defeat on Obamacare repeal
For the first time, rank-and-file Republicans are acknowledging Obamacare may never be repealed.
After multiple failures to repeal the law, the White House and many GOP lawmakers are publicly promising to try again in early 2018. But privately, both House and Senate Republicans acknowledge they may never be able to deliver on their seven-year vow to scrap the law.
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“Personally, I don’t” see it, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I just don’t know how you can reconcile a bill you’ve taken two whiffs at already and couldn’t get the votes.”
Some sound almost resigned to the new reality. “I’d say it’s 50-50,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said of the prospect the law will remain in place.
Republicans are torn between the potency of their longtime rallying cry against Obamacare — so popular with GOP donors and their base that it helped flip both houses of Congress and the White House — and the reality they’ve wasted nine months of what is supposed to be the most productive time of a new administration failing to get it done. With few legislative accomplishments so far to show voters, failure on Obamacare repeal could prove to be a major liability in the 2018 midterm elections.
Even if Republicans try again next year, few House Republicans are confident the Senate would be successful without a change in the GOP lineup or someone flipping their vote.
“Anytime you fumble twice, there’s the anticipation that you’ll fumble for the third time,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Do Senate Republicans have “credibility? Yes. Believability? Perhaps no.”
Nearly every Republican interviewed for this story insisted they still oppose the health care law and want to see the repeal effort move forward. But the failure to gather 50 Senate votes before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a bill without the chance of a Democratic filibuster has injected a new dose of realism — and political vulnerability — into their ranks. Once-lofty campaign promises to tear out Obamacare “root and branch,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said throughout his 2014 reelection campaign, are as likely to produce winces as cheers.
“I would bet a substantial part of it is there 10 years from now,” said one GOP senator, who declined to say that for attribution.
After last month’s latest failure on the repeal bill drafted by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Senate Republicans quickly turned to tax reform, saying that they planned to renew the repeal push in early 2018. Their plan, they say, is to use the same Graham-Cassidy repeal bill and renew the authority to bypass a Democratic filibuster.
The odds of success get better if Republicans can deliver on tax reform, Cramer of North Dakota predicted. A win there could build political momentum — and also foster some badly needed trust between the House and Senate.
If Republicans try for Obamacare repeal again in 2018, the House would again have to go first on a bill passed under the fast-track reconciliation process, only to risk being hung out to dry again by the Senate.
A successful tax reform bill “would be the demonstration that [senators] are serious and they can function,” Cramer said. “There would be enough optimism to give them another chance and maybe even give us all a better” shot.
For now, Republicans are wrestling with how to talk about Obamacare repeal with their constituents. For seven years, their talking points never changed: Elect Republicans and we’ll repeal Obamacare.