Trump turned a win into a loss

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MIL­BANK Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

How does this happen? On Wed­nes­day, the House passed a $1.2 tril­lion spend­ing bill by a lop­sided mar­gin of 309 to 118. A ma­jor­ity of both Democrats and Repub­li­cans sup­ported the mea­sure, which sailed through the Se­nate.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) alike cel­e­brated, and President Trump said of the spend­ing bill: “This is what win­ning looks like!”

Yet the day after this bill passed the House, the cham­ber split down the mid­dle as it passed the “Trump­care” leg­is­la­tion re­peal­ing Oba­macare. All 193 Democrats and 20 Repub­li­cans op­posed the bill, which sur­vived by the nar­row­est of mar­gins, 217 to 213, and goes to the Se­nate, where it is so toxic that law­mak­ers there don’t even plan to take it up.

Pelosi bit­terly told Repub­li­cans they would have the bill “tat­tooed on your fore­head. You will glow in the dark on this one.” Democrats sang “Hey, hey, hey, good­bye” to Repub­li­cans on the House floor.

How could the peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives swing, in the space of 24 hours, from bi­par­ti­san con­grat­u­la­tions to par­ti­san re­crim­i­na­tions? The dif­fer­ence was in Trump’s ap­proach.

In the case of the spend­ing bill, he acted as president of all Amer­i­cans. He ne­go­ti­ated a com­pro­mise that thrilled no­body but sat­is­fied the vast ma­jor­ity. In the case of the health-care bill, he catered to the most ex­treme el­e­ments of the Repub­li­can Party, the 30-or-so mem­bers of the House Free­dom Cau­cus, wind­ing up with a rad­i­cal and slap­dash bill that would, in the un­likely event it be­came law, be at di­rect odds with what Amer­i­cans say they want.

Democrats crowed, a bit too much, about the spend­ing agree­ment, which avoided funds for a bor­der wall and a de­por­ta­tion force and avoided the de­fund­ing of sanc­tu­ary cities and Planned Par­ent­hood. It didn’t em­brace Trump’s pro­posed non-de­fense cuts. Pelosi bragged that “we handed President Trump a re­sound­ing de­feat.”

That wasn’t en­tirely true. Trump got spend­ing in­creases for de­fense and for bor­der se­cu­rity, and more school choice in the form of the D.C. Schol­ar­ship Op­por­tu­nity Pro­gram. Trump called the bill “a clear win for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Un­for­tu­nately, that wasn’t the les­son Trump wound up tak­ing away from the ex­pe­ri­ence. An aide said Trump was an­gry that Democrats were “spik­ing the ball” by declar­ing vic­tory. Trump tweeted that, when the cur­rent agree­ment ex­pires, “Our coun­try needs a good ‘shut­down’ in Septem­ber to fix mess!”

This is ex­actly the wrong in­stinct, be­cause such think­ing cre­ated the Trump­care abom­i­na­tion on Thurs­day. Repub­li­cans hyp­o­crit­i­cally jammed the bill through the House be­fore mem­bers could read it or it could be given a price tag. They would elim­i­nate pop­u­lar pro­tec­tions for peo­ple with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, make older peo­ple pay more and give huge tax breaks to the wealthy. They would even elim­i­nate pro­tec­tions against cat­a­strophic costs for peo­ple on their em­ploy­ers’ plans.

Thus did Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers cause House Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to walk the plank on health care, pass­ing a bill that the Se­nate won’t even con­sider, just to sat­isfy 30 ex­trem­ists from safe dis­tricts.

And it was un­nec­es­sary. For all the par­ti­san fire­works, there is a health-care pol­icy con­sen­sus out there for the tak­ing if Trump chooses to. A Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion poll last month found a broad con­sen­sus on many health-care poli­cies that crosses party lines: al­low­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to ne­go­ti­ate Medi­care drug prices (92 per­cent), mak­ing it eas­ier to bring generic drugs to mar­ket (87 per­cent) and re­quir­ing drug com­pa­nies to dis­close how they set prices (86 per­cent). The ma­jor el­e­ments of Oba­macare, ex­cept for the in­di­vid­ual man­date, are broadly pop­u­lar. What Amer­i­cans want, across party lines, is what Oba­macare didn’t do well: mak­ing health care and pre­scrip­tions cheaper over­all (in­clud­ing for the ma­jor­ity on em­ployer plans).

In fact, on most is­sues, there is more con­sen­sus among Amer­i­cans than most peo­ple real­ize. Re­search by the cen­trist group Third Way finds there is a con­sen­sus in fa­vor of re­new­able en­ergy (if it isn’t paired with rules crack­ing down on fos­sil fu­els), ci­ti­zen­ship for il­le­gal im­mi­grants (if paired with crack­downs on bor­der se­cu­rity and il­le­gal hir­ing), Amer­i­can lead­er­ship abroad (if it doesn’t mean boots on the ground) and univer­sal back­ground checks on gun sales (if there aren’t gun bans).

The prob­lem is the con­sen­sus on th­ese and many other is­sues breaks down when it is fil­tered through the lens of party. Once par­ties take sides, Amer­i­cans take cues from lead­ers and shift their views to get in line.

If Trump, who only re­cently be­came Repub­li­can, wants to win un­til we’re tired of win­ning, there’s an ob­vi­ous path to con­sen­sus. Al­ter­na­tively, he and the mem­bers of the Free­dom Cau­cus can cel­e­brate the virtues of par­ti­san po­lar­ity and ide­o­log­i­cal pu­rity — in a very small room.

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