Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is in a position that must have seemed unthinkable after November’s election mandate. The only way they’re going to make good now on their 7-year crusade to repeal and replace Obamacare is if Democrats help them.
For that to happen, Republicans will have surrender any notion of gutting the current health care law and actually work with the opposition party to craft something that makes people happy on both sides of the political divide. Otherwise, it’s status quo.
If it wasn’t clear before Friday afternoon when the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act collapsed, it should be now. This what happens when the party in power can’t reach consensus and gets its butt kicked on a high-profile issue.
Republicans are a house divided on this issue and it won’t be bridged without help from Democrats. Good luck with that, right? Minority leader Nancy Pelosi was smirking and giddy in remarks after Speaker Paul Ryan admitted this was “a setback, no two ways about it.”
President Trump, even with his art of the deal skills, couldn’t convince members of the Freedom Caucus to stop drinking the tea of an all-or-nothing, no-compromise bill. And guess what? That won’t change. The Freedom folk don’t believe in compromise, especially on something like this.
And when polls showed Americans were getting extremely concerned about the proposed bill would to gut benefits they have come to rely upon, Ryan realized he had to make some concessions to keep the public from full revolt.
The problem for him is, the Freedom Caucus doesn’t concede, no matter the political cost. It wanted to get rid of Obamacare taxes and let states run their own Medicaid programs. In some places that could have included requiring work in exchange for Medicaid benefits.
Equally damaging was a widely-held belief that rooms filled with white Republican men were deciding what women’s health care would look like under the new plan.
It was a colossal mess and the plan died an ugly death.
So now what?
Short of allowing Obamacare to continue indefinitely, thus failing to deliver on a central campaign promise to repeal/replace it, Republicans need reach across the aisle. Democrats have to be involved, and that means compromise on multiple issues.
Because as tough as it might be to negotiate with Democrats on changes to President Obama’s signature achievement, there’s probably a better chance of reaching consensus there between moderate Republicans and the Freedom Caucus.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland seemed to offer that olive branch to the GOP leadership.
“I hope we can work with the administration and with the other side and not just abandon this effort,” he said, “and not make an effort (going forward) to destroy indirectly what we did not destroy directly today.
“That’s our responsibility as Republicans, as Democrats, sent here by our people to make their lives better.”
It’s an opening if Ryan and GOP leaders are willing to take it. That could be humiliating, but it may be the only move they have left.