Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Designed to fail so they can move on

Jonathan Chait's theory is probably right. Chait hypothesizes that the Republican health care bill, which was disclosed to the public on Monday, is now being slammed through Congress, where it will almost certainly fail, is a failure by design. While I usually am suspicious of theories that recast apparent failures as some kind of sophisticated political strategies, McConnell and Ryan's actions with regard to the health care bill really makes no sense on their own terms.

Despite the fact that Republicans have controlled all both chambers of Congress and the Presidency, they have had no real legislative accomplishments. By comparison, during the first month of Obama's first term (when the Dems also controlled both chambers of Congress), he signed three major pieces of legislation (the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the re-authorization of S-CHIP, and the Stimulus bill). Their problem is that they promised to repeal and replace Obamacare before they get to anything else and it has become increasingly clear that doing that will be extremely hard. To do it right will take a long time and a lot of work, which means the rest of their agenda will not be enacted as they hammer out the health care details.

Plus, the clock is ticking. Trump's unpopularity at this point in his term is unprecedented and historically right now is the high point of most president's popularity. While the 2018 electoral map heavily favors the GOP, the party that does not hold the presidency almost always loses seats during the midterm. A deeply unpopular Trump and a highly motivated opposition is going to make that phenomenon worse. They really only have until the end of the year before House members and Senators facing re-election in 2018 suddenly have an incentive to buck the agenda of their party and its unpopular President.

It makes sense if Ryan and McConnell decided that rather than wasting what may be the only time they control all levers of power working on a repeal and replace plan that might not pass anyway, they need to get past the issue to do other things they want to do. Plus, they don't really care about health care. If they get the health care reform effort to quickly fail, maybe they can get past it to stuff they really do care about, like giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy. As an added bonus, if Obamacare is still around, they can still complain about the evils of the current health care system in the next election campaign. If they repeal it and replace it with their own plan, anything wrong with the health care system would be their fault. The only way out of this mess is to get out of the repeal and replace business entirely. I think Chait is right and that is what they are trying to do right now.

The funny thing is that if that is the real strategy of GOP leaders in Congress, no one bothered to tell the President.