Obamacare was doomed. On its deathbed. Dig the hole. That was the feeling far and wide soon after the election of Donald Trump. Congressional Republicans held both houses of Congress and had been pounding the drum to take it down for years. As a candidate, Trump enthusiastically took up the beat, telling a joint session of Congress together they’d get the job done. “Repeal and replace” were the watchwords.
But here we are almost halfway through his first year, and Obamacare is still around. It’s having troubles to be sure: insurance companies bailing out, premiums running hot and serious questions about the program’s long-term viability without significant tweaks. But again, it’s still here much to the apparent puzzlement of Republican senators who are gathering around Obamacare like it’s a giant Rubik’s Cube.
So why are they having so much trouble? They are caught between their idealistic desire to strip away the signature accomplishment of the Obama years and the practical reality of what that means – the number of uninsured Americans going back up, some Obamacare ideas which the public likes being scrapped, and all with no promise that insurance premiums for the rest of us will get any lower.
Put simply, they are colliding with a basic truth of governance. It is easy to give things to people but hard to take them away. The result has been a staggering array of alternative plans. The president has proposed repealing Obamacare now and replacing it at some vague time in the future. Other Republicans have rolled out complicated schemes to sidestep the thorniest parts of their internal debate. And if none of that can gather enough Republican support to pass a bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has even proposed the ultimate heresy in the eyes of some conservatives – working with the Democrats to prop up Obamacare.
Whether they can sort it out remains a mystery. But for now, the biggest thing Obamacare has going for it is a deeply divided Republican party unable to act decisively. And for Democrats, that has extended the long holiday week … only it’s not so much like Independence Day, as Christmas in July.