Will repeal failure break the Obamacare fever in Washington?
Posted July 19
Where's the middle ground if one party is almost entirely united against something that the other party is almost entirely united in trying to protect?
Obamacare, since its passage, has become a trigger word in Washington that sends Republicans on a quest for repeal and puts Democrats into a defensive crouch.
The Obamacare repeal effort in the Senate -- plans A, B and C -- failed this week, killing, for now, the party's years-long pledge to undo the law.
That doesn't mean Republicans' desire to repeal the law is gone and it doesn't mean that Democrats are going to suddenly join hands with Republicans.
And that's what it will take. The Republicans' failure to repeal the law they've been promising to repeal makes it clear that the only health care solution will be a bipartisan one.
CNN's Tami Luhby has written extensively about how the law is performing well in some areas and poorly in others. Without any action, it could wither (Read more here).
But it feels more like we're all back where we started -- Obamacare is the flawed law in need of a tuneup and there's no clear path to fixing it or getting rid of it.
Democrats are going to keep trying to protect the law; it's their signature domestic accomplishment of the past generation. Republicans say they are going to keep trying to undo it.
President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that Republicans "must keep their promise to the American people."
Appearing on CNN's New Day, Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said he would vote for a straight repeal of the law without a replacement lined up, but only if there was a two-year delay so lawmakers could figure out how to fix the health care system.
Critics argue that's like lighting the two-year fuse on a bomb and hoping lawmakers can MacGyver a fix before the health care system blows up.
"It would give us two years, in which, to actually find some alternatives -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- so that we can actually fix this system that's in place today," Rounds said.
The argument there is that if Obamacare can only be repealed, it would force bipartisanship.
That's different, but sort of related to Trump's argument Tuesday that once he and Republicans "let Obamacare fail," it will force Democrats to the negotiating table.
"We'll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us, and they're going to say, 'How do we fix it? How do we fix it? Or how do we come up with a new plan?'"
What both Rounds and Trump require is for Obamacare to either wither or be repealed.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer didn't sound like he was in the mood to negotiate on those terms.
"The President's path, which is simply to sabotage the system and hurt millions and millions of people make things far worse than they are today, is not an acceptable choice. And I hope our Republican colleagues will realize that," Schumer said.
Rounds was asked by CNN's Alisyn Camerota why the law has to be repealed first.
"You could just work with Democrats to fix it rather than repeal it," she said.
"There is a discussion that goes on that says if we could get a group of us to actually sit down side-by-side; let's get past the question of whether we're repealing or replacing or fixing," Rounds said. "The reality is the concept behind Obamacare in the first place does not work."
Here he wants to sit down with Democrats, but he rejects the whole notion of the law.
A lot of Democrats would disagree, which is why they aren't likely to step up and help undo the law. The repeal effort has only made Democrats more intent on protecting Obamacare, a law that much of their base doesn't think goes nearly far enough to provide health insurance. Many Democrats would rather see a "Medicare for All" or single-payer system like the one advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
So this is where we are: Republicans really want to repeal the law but can't figure out how to do it. Democrats want to go much further than Obamacare -- progressives in the party continue to push for more government involvement.
Republicans control every lever of the federal government, but that didn't stop Trump from declaring Tuesday that he was ready to let Obamacare fail and that neither he nor his party would "own it" or be responsible.
Democrats only power right now is to force Republicans to do everything in lock-step. Given that Republicans are split on how to move on Obamacare, it's not a horrible Democratic strategy. But it won't help fix the law.
Until lawmakers can get out of their deeply entrenched positions, there's not going to be any bipartisan solution for the country's health care system.
CNN's Ron Brownstein wrote recently about why one-party rule doesn't usually last long in this country in recent years; because the in-power party oversteps its bounds and energizes the other side.
While Republicans are talking about either repealing the law or letting it fail to bring Democrats to the negotiating table, Schumer has talked repeatedly about the need for Republicans to meet them half way and fix what's there.
"The history of America shows, when you do things in sunlight, and you do things bipartisan, and you do things somewhat deliberately, the result is much better than what they tried to do, which is have a small number of people in a dark room and not tell anybody else what they're doing," Schumer said.
He seems to forget the most recent history when it took a united Democratic super majority working without Republicans to pass Obamacare. And passing the law arguably cost them their majorities on Capitol Hill.
It was one party working without the other that created Obamacare. And it's clear after this week in the Senate that one party working without the other won't be able to fix it.