How the White House and Republicans underestimated Obamacare repeal – Politico
The longer Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare flounder, the clearer it becomes that President Donald Trump’s team and many in Congress dramatically underestimated the challenge of rolling back former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.
The Trump transition team and other Republican leaders presumed that Congress would scrap Obamacare by President’s Day weekend in late February, according to three former Republican congressional aides and two current ones familiar with the administration’s efforts.
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Republican leaders last fall planned a quick strike on the law in a series of meetings and phone calls, hoping to simply revive a 2015 repeal bill that Obama vetoed.
Few in the administration or Republican leadership expected the effort to stretch into the summer months, with another delay announced this weekend, eating into valuable time for lawmakers to tackle tax reform, nominations or spending bills.
As Trump himself infamously remarked, “nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated” — even though health care has reliably tripped up past administrations.
Now that the difficulty of getting 50 senators to rally around a bill has come into stark relief, Republicans are starting to acknowledge they misjudged the situation.
“It’s easier to rage against the machine when you’re not in control of the machine, No. 1. And the perception that we are in control of the machine is inaccurate,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “Needing 50 out of 52 members on the same page in the Senate? I think that is not being in control of the machine.”
The failure of the plan to quickly repeal Obamacare earlier this year forced Republican leaders to start over and attempt the daunting task of crafting a more comprehensive health care plan that would unite all sides of a squabbling conference. And the Trump administration’s lack of sufficient staff and planning for that early effort helped lay the groundwork for the legislative chaos the GOP’s agenda is mired in today.
A senior administration aide said that although the White House didn’t expect health care to take so long, the blame game will dissipate if the president signs a health care bill by August.
“If, a week from now, we have completed the repeal of Obamacare, I don’t think people looking back on it will do the woulda, coulda, shoulda game,” the aide said.
Still, rank-and-file senators now say starting with tax reform could have done more to unify the party and avoid the GOP’s ongoing quagmire.
“I would have much preferred to start off with tax. But that wasn’t my decision,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “Tax is the heavy lift here. It’s not going to be easier than health care. And we’ve been doing this for seven months.”
Past administrations have also been hurt by health care. Democrats said after the passage of Obamacare that they wished they had delayed the topic until more of their agenda was underway — House Democrats lost their majority in 2010 shortly after the law passed.
First lady Hillary Clinton took flak in the early 1990s for her failed health care task force, and President George W. Bush faced tremendous opposition when his administration pushed through the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit — even though the program has cost less than original estimates.
Still, after the November 2016 election, few in Trump world or Congress saw potential problems after Republicans campaigned on killing off the Affordable Care Act for seven years.
“We are probably all guilty of not being as creative as we needed to be,” said one former congressional leadership aide. “Every administration likes to check off an accomplishment.”
During the transition, the Trump administration never established a great deal of coordination with the Hill or a concrete game plan for health care, according to congressional aides and one former transition official.
The transition had just a handful of health policy people, who were also tasked with working on the confirmation processes for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. The administration official said the lengthy confirmation process, which he blamed on Democrats, hurt the White House because it meant the administration did not have two key health policy experts in place.
Helping sort through the process were Marc Short, now the White House legislative affairs director; Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff; and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser for policy. All three had congressional experience, but several Republicans said Trump’s staff lacked experience negotiating or moving major legislation.