All eyes are on Vice President Pence and Rick Dearborn, White House deputy chief of staff for legislative, intergovernmental affairs and implementation. They are the able hands that will guide the White House through the process of passing the American Health Care Act. The effort to repeal and replace Obamacare is central to the very being of the Republican Party. Its significance cannot be overstated. And so far, I think things are proceeding according to plan. The era of Obamacare may soon be over.
The media has been fixated on the GOP’s naysayers. Some Republicans have objections to the bill and made some noise, but they aren’t the real story. What I see is the White House moving in sync with House and Senate leadership.
The bill’s central components have kept the core of the GOP caucus intact and answered most of the concerns of business leaders. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) guaranteed that Republicans will “have 218 votes when this thing comes to the floor.” Of course, the legislation introduced this week is not what will ultimately pass. There will inevitably be plenty of chances for less-than-enthusiastic members to amend or supplement the bill. The same can be said for fair-minded industry and consumer groups. But those who are complaining in Washington about this provision or that provision are mostly the usual suspects. There was no point in trying to accommodate them early in the process.
Moving forward, the White House will have to make a series of important strategic decisions as it balances its carrots and sticks in assembling the votes needed for passage. An important question at hand is whether President Trump will target and unload on Republicans who have hesitated to get on board. I’m usually against the idea of seeking retribution and publicly calling out members of Congress. It typically doesn’t work and is counterproductive. Plus, no one should burn bridges. But this vote matters more than most, and Trump’s unprecedented, unique ability to vote-shame members with a tweet or two could be effective.
So far, the bill has cleared two key committees and is now barreling toward a floor vote. Very soon, Republicans in Congress will have to make what Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, described as a “binary choice … you’re either making good on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare or you’re not.” In my estimation, the GOP will maintain course and finish what it has started, if for no other reason than that the consequences of failure are so severe. Last night Pence predicted success, saying in an interview that it will “be done by this spring.” I hope that he’s right.