Today, the GOP failed in spectacular fashion.
Republicans have made the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” the cornerstone of their collective identity for the past eight years. While Barack Obama was still president, they passed 60 symbolic ACA repeal bills, safe in the knowledge that Obama would surely veto them, thereby protecting themselves from the recklessness of their actions.
Then, something happened that GOP legislators hadn’t prepared for: they won the presidential election. Suddenly, Republicans had the means to make good on their years-old promise to kill off the ACA.
They had the means, but not the will.
Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan came up with their ACA “repeal and replace” bill, the American Health Care Act. No one but the most dedicated Trump sycophants, like Congressmen Mike Bishop (R-MI8) and Tim Walberg (R-MI7) liked it. The House “Freedom Caucus,” including Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI3) panned it for not being heartless enough, even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it would rob 24 million people of their health care coverage. And there were even a few reasonable Republican Congressman who balked at the political implications of taking health care away from their constituents. Democrats, naturally, were entirely against the bill.
And that’s how the AHCA went down in flames today: detested by hardcore Republicans for being too soft, feared by moderate Republicans for what it would do to their political futures, and a nonstarter for all Democrats. Trump first threatened to go after any Republican who voted against it. Then he threatened that this was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, and that he wouldn’t entertain future attempts to gut the ACA. Yet for all his efforts, the self-declared world’s greatest negotiator, the man who said that only he could fix health care, Trump failed.
With it becoming increasingly apparent that the AHCA didn’t have the votes it needed to pass, Ryan pulled the bill. In a press conference minutes later, Ryan said that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” and he and other Republicans said it was time to move on to other things.
This is a victory for Democrats, no doubt about it. But it is a battle victory, not the celebration at the end of the war.
When it comes down to it, the AHCA didn’t fail for all the reasons it should have. It didn’t fail because it would leave millions without health care. It didn’t fail because it allowed insurance companies to increase the premium for being a senior from three times the amount of a younger person’s policy to five times as much. It didn’t fail because it discontinued the protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
When it comes down to it, the AHCA failed because it wasn’t heartless enough.
Congressmen like Amash would have voted for the AHCA if it had completely obliterated the ACA in its entirety, rather simply watering it down to near nothingness, as it did. Amash would have gladly voted for a bill that returned us to where we were in 2007, when people with diabetes or cancer survivors were lucky to find any insurance at all, and where being a woman was considered a medical condition deserving of a higher premium.
And this is why we can’t relax. Republicans are saying today that they’re done with health care reform, but don’t you dare believe it. If they find a way to toughen up the AHCA while placating enough moderates, they’ll make another run at it.
So celebrate this win, because it is a win. But on Monday, be ready to pick up the phone or go to your politician’s office to tell them again that we won’t let them take away our health care without a fight.