Humiliating Defeat for Trump, Ryan as Republican Bill to Repeal and Replace Obamacare Dies
The repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, arguably President Donald Trump’s most popular promise to his supporters, was indefinitely delayed Friday as House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew the proposed American Health Care Act from consideration.
The New York Times reports Ryan rushed to the White House shortly after noon to deliver the humiliating news to President Trump that his first legislative effort — which was widely believed to be easily achievable thanks to total Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches of government — had failed. “I spoke to the president… and I told him the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan announced. “I will not sugar-coat this, this is a disappointing day for us.”
The American Health Care Act (AHCA) was doomed by great discord among the GOP ranks, widespread public outrage and the president’s own inexperience in governing. As a result, Obamacare — by far the most loathed legacy of the Obama era among conservatives — will remain the law of the land until Republicans can regroup and try again to dismantle a law that has saved lives and brought the ranks of the nation’s uninsured to their lowest-ever levels even as it has raised health insurance premiums for millions of Americans.
The vote on the AHCA, which would have replaced Obamacare subsidies with mainly age-based refundable tax credits, was delayed earlier this week as it became increasingly apparent Republicans wouldn’t be able to muster enough votes to pass it. More than 30 House Republicans had threatened to reject the bill; its supporters needed at least 21 GOP votes for passage. Following news of the delayed vote, Trump issued an ultimatum to divided GOP lawmakers — vote for the AHCA or let Obamacare continue and deal with the political fallout.
However, for many of the more conservative legislators, particularly members of the Freedom Caucus, the AHCA was too generous. In addition to dropping Obamacare’s detested individual mandate, they demanded deep cuts to the core of the nation’s social safety net. Trump summoned Freedom Caucus members to the White House Thursday and promised to meet some of their demands, including dropping requirements that health insurance corporations cover basic services, including mental health, mammograms, maternity and newborn care. A photo of the all-male meeting stoked further outrage among many Americans and derision from Democrats.
The president’s ultimatum didn’t work — neither the Freedom Caucus hardliners nor more moderate Republicans wary of the electoral consequences of 24 million Americans losing their health insurance were moved. More and more Republicans voiced their opposition, and by Friday Ryan knew the bill was dead. Some Democrats mocked the president for rushing to a vote without securing sufficient support for the measure. “You don’t find a day and then say you’re going to pass a bill, you build a consensus in your caucus and when you’re ready you set the date to bring it to the floor,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Thursday. “Rookie’s error, Donald Trump. You may be a great negotiator, but rookie’s error for bringing this up… when clearly you’re not ready.”
AHCA critics say there is much to oppose in the bill, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who campaigned for president last year on a platform advocating single-payer universal health care, called “an absolute disaster” that “has nothing to do with health care… and everything to do with… a massive shift of wealth from working people and middle-income people to the very richest people in this country.” The bill contained a tax break for insurance company CEOs and an estimated $144 billion in collective tax savings for Americans with annual incomes over $1 million. Meanwhile, millions of uninsured people would be unable to obtain coverage and the nation’s most vulnerable populations — poor people, people of color, the mentally ill, chronically ill and the elderly — would likely suffer the most. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called the bill “fundamentally cruel” and said it would ‘‘work great for those at the top and just kick dirt in the faces of everybody else.’’
Millions of Americans — including many Trump voters — agreed. They angrily packed town-hall style meetings with Republican lawmakers, with many passionately, and sometimes desperately, stressing how Obamacare was literally a life-saver for them or their loved ones. In the most recent national polls, support for the Republican bill had dropped to as low as 17 percent. Thousands of people in cities across the nation rallied and marched in support of Obamacare and against the AHCA on Thursday, the latest of many such protests. As Friday’s ultimatum deadline loomed, it grew increasingly apparent the AHCA had little chance of passing.
“We were very close, and it was a very, very tight margin,” a disappointed Trump said on Friday following the bill’s withdrawal. “We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t gonna give us a single vote so it’s a very difficult thing to do.” Pelosi, meanwhile, called the bill’s defeat “a victory for the American people.”
For seven years, Republican lawmakers have made destroying Obamacare their top priority. They have voted more than 60 times since 2011 to repeal all or part of the law. Getting rid of it was supposed to be easy with the GOP firmly in control of all the necessary levers of power. During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump promised “insurance for everybody,” insisting “everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now” and that “the government’s gonna pay for it.” However, for now Obamacare is the closest thing to “insurance for everybody” Americans will know.