Em­bar­rass­ment was a bet­ter op­tion

GOP dodges bul­let by fall­ing flat

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Doug Thomp­son Doug Thomp­son is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and colum­nist for the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. Email him at dthomp­son@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWADoug.

Peo­ple of­ten em­bar­rass them­selves fur­ther in at­tempts to avoid em­bar­rass­ment. Some­times, they in­jure them­selves while do­ing that, too. But some­times, you dodge a bul­let when you fall flat on your face.

Con­sider the ma­jor­ity party in the Se­nate, which fell on its face in the wee hours of Fri­day morn­ing by fail­ing to pass a health care bill. It fell while still hold­ing its “re­peal Oba­macare” ban­ner high, as they did through four elec­tions. About 1:30 a.m. East­ern time, they just could not come up with a co­her­ent plan to do that. Like stu­dents pulling an all-nighter to fin­ish a term pa­per, their slip­shod im­pro­vi­sa­tion failed to pass.

Pass­ing some­thing would not have un­done the em­bar­rass­ment of hav­ing to make some­thing up on the fly af­ter seven years of declar­ing Oba­macare the worst thing ever. Now the whole rest of the GOP agenda is in dan­ger. Scal­ing back health care ex­pen­di­tures are key to that agenda. Con­sider how that added to the enor­mous pres­sure is to pass some­thing. I won­der how many sen­a­tors were only will­ing to vote for that crazy im­pro­vi­sa­tion of a re­peal bill be­cause of that pres­sure.

Some hate Oba­macare so much they can­not imag­ine any­thing worse. Yet an old cliche is true: Things could al­ways be worse. So I am not con­vinced that the GOP did not dodge a bul­let here. I am not at all con­vinced the rest of the agenda, even if it passed, could off­set the po­lit­i­cal dam­age of a bad health care bill. I un­der­stand the Repub­li­cans want to do some­thing, any­thing to con­vince peo­ple that hav­ing a GOP ma­jor­ity is use­ful. OK. “First, do no harm,” as the doc­tors say.

No one should have re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pected the GOP to have a fin­ished bill ready to go in Jan­uary, but the lack of even a broad agree­ment in prin­ci­ple shows a truly shock­ing amount of drift. Donors to the GOP who were driven by op­po­si­tion to Oba­macare should ask for a re­fund.

The drift does not end in Congress. There are other ways be­sides pass­ing a bad bill to make things worse. For ex­am­ple, there is ir­ra­tional de­nial. “I’m not go­ing to own it,” the pres­i­dent has said. “I can tell you the Repub­li­cans are not go­ing to own it. We’ll let Oba­macare fail and then the Democrats are go­ing to come to us.” Then the tweety bird-in-chief Twit­tered out Fri­day morn­ing, “As I said from the be­gin­ning, let Oba­macare im­plode, then deal. Watch!”

“Let­ting Oba­macare fail” has been the GOP plan for seven years run­ning. It got them where they are to­day.

The buck still stops at the pres­i­dent’s desk who­ever hap­pens to be sit­ting be­hind it. A BBC com­men­ta­tor nailed the anal­y­sis of the pres­i­dent’s stance: “By telling Amer­i­cans he’s go­ing to let the U.S. health care sys­tem col­lapse in or­der to rally sup­port for an even­tual fix, he’s es­sen­tially tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for any­thing bad that hap­pens in the com­ing days. De­spite his protes­ta­tions that he won’t ‘own’ what hap­pens next, he just stuffed the re­ceipt in his pocket.”

As for the Democrats com­ing crawl­ing, no Demo­crat would work with a pres­i­dent or party as long as the stated hope and goal is de­stroy­ing the plan the Democrats want saved. I heard a Repub­li­can voter quoted about health care on the ra­dio a while ago. He com­plained that bi­par­ti­san­ship means “giv­ing the Democrats what they want.” Well, sir, who­ever you are, maybe that is be­cause Democrats know what they want and your party does not.

As for other ways things could get worse, there was the whole the idea of re­peal­ing Oba­macare now and re­plac­ing later. I do not have enough space left this week to de­scribe half of what was wrong with that idea, but will hit a few high points:

First, even most Repub­li­cans polled want a re­place­ment plan be­fore there is a re­peal. Only 27 per­cent of Repub­li­cans want a re­peal even if there is no re­place­ment ready, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported from a poll it con­ducted with the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago. Sec­ond, un­cer­tainty in the mar­kets drive up prices. Re­peal with­out re­place­ment would cre­ate more un­cer­tainty. Fi­nally, any re­al­ist must ac­cept the risk that the GOP will prob­a­bly not be able to do in two years what they have flam­boy­antly failed to do in seven. The likely re­sult at the end of two years would be just an­other ex­ten­sion any­way.

First do no harm. Em­bar­rass­ment does no harm.

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