Why Repub­li­can health care bill failed

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

There are many rea­sons why the Repub­li­can health care bill col­lapsed in the Se­nate, but two num­bers help ex­plain the out­come: 62 and 36.

Sixty-two per­cent is the fa­vor­able rat­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan en­joyed six months into his first term in the summer of 1981. That wave of pop­u­lar­ity swamped Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion and led to the pas­sage of his sig­na­ture tax-cut­ting pro­posal, even though Democrats en­joyed a 51-vote mar­gin in the House.

On July 29 of that year, House Speaker Tip O’Neill told re­porters that Rea­gan’s tele­vised speech to the na­tion a few nights be­fore had touched off “a tele­phone blitz like this na­tion has never seen.” That speech, com­bined with a na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, had what the speaker called “a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect” and helped con­vince 48 House Democrats to back the pres­i­dent.

By con­trast, Don­ald Trump’s fa­vor­able score after six months has sunk to 36 per­cent in the lat­est ABC/Wash­ing­ton Post poll. The pres­i­dent cam- paigned only spo­rad­i­cally for the health care bill, and if he’d even tried some­thing like Rea­gan’s TV speech, it would have fallen flat.

No Democrats sup­ported the mea­sure, and a crit­i­cal num­ber of Repub­li­cans op­posed it as well. They felt free to defy the pres­i­dent be­cause he is per­son­ally un­pop­u­lar and so is his leg­is­la­tion. Un­like the Democrats who lined up with Rea­gan 36 years ago, Trump’s op­po­nents don’t re­spect him and don’t fear him.

Dur­ing those early months of 1981, when we were both cov­er­ing Con­gress, Speaker O’Neill was talk­ing one day about Rea­gan’s en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. “The hon­ey­moon is still on,” he said. Trump never had a hon­ey­moon, and is rapidly squan­der­ing what is usu­ally a highly pro­duc­tive pe­riod in any pres­i­dency.

Com­pare their main leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als. Rea­gan’s tax cuts slashed mar­ginal rates by 23 per­cent, al­ways an at­trac­tive idea to politi­cians. They even­tu­ally back­fired, fu­el­ing the deficit and driv­ing up in­ter­est rates, but at the time, they com­manded broad bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

The op­po­site is true for Trump’s health care bill. By about 2 to 1, Amer­i­cans pre­ferred Oba­macare to the GOP al­ter­na­tive, re­ports the ABC/Post poll. And by a mar­gin of 63 to 27, the pub­lic says it is more im­por­tant to sus­tain health cov­er­age for low-in­come Amer­i­cans than to cut taxes.

That deeply crit­i­cal view was re­in­forced by Repub­li­cans like Sen. Su­san Collins of Maine. Collins said on CNN that the Trump­care bill “im­poses fun­da­men­tal, sweep­ing changes in the Med­i­caid pro­gram, and those in­clude very deep cuts that would af­fect some of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in our so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing dis­abled chil­dren and poor se­niors.” Repub­li­can gov­er­nors like Brian San­doval of Ne­vada joined in call­ing Oba­macare “a win­ner for our state” and op­pos­ing at­tempts to cut it back.

Trump’s abil­ity to push through such a mean-spir­ited mea­sure was severely ag­gra­vated by his per­sonal lim­i­ta­tions. While his fa­vor­able rat­ing is dis­mal, he ranks even lower on many ques­tions of char­ac­ter and judg­ment.

Only 24 per­cent say his be­hav­ior in of­fice is “fit­ting and proper,” while 7 in 10 de­scribe him as “un-pres­i­den­tial.” Thirty per­cent see him as a “pos­i­tive role model” for chil­dren while 68 per­cent say he is not. Twenty-nine per­cent say the more they hear from Trump, the more they like him; 57 per­cent say ex­po­sure to Trump has di­min­ished their opinion of him.

The warn­ing signs were clearly present dur­ing the elec­tion. Sixty-three per­cent of all vot­ers said Trump lacked the tem­per­a­ment to be pres­i­dent, and yet 19 per­cent of those doubters voted for him any­way. Of the 61 per­cent who said he was not qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent, 17 per­cent still sup­ported him.

His hard-core base is still there — heav­ily weighted to­ward older white men with­out col­lege de­grees living in ru­ral ar­eas. But that’s about one-third of the coun­try. For many oth­ers, the anx­i­eties they ex­pressed last Novem­ber have been am­pli­fied by his per­for­mance, not al­le­vi­ated. His base is shrink­ing, not ex­pand­ing. And that’s not a good way to gov­ern.

After Con­gress passed Rea­gan’s tax cut pack­age, he talked to Demo­cratic lead­ers. One of them, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the chair­man of the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, told him, “Well, Mr. Pres­i­dent, you’re tough. You beat us ... It means you’re work­ing at your job.”

Few mem­bers of Con­gress to­day view Trump as tough. Few fear that he can beat them. Few think he is work­ing at his job, or even un­der­stands it. That’s a cru­cial rea­son why his health care bill failed — and why the rest of his leg­isla­tive pro­gram is in jeop­ardy.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

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