But President Trump just won’t let them let it go. First he ordered the Justice Department to get fully behind a lawsuit seeking to have the ACA struck down in its entirety, and now he’s making extravagant promises he has no intention of keeping, and which his fellow Republicans are going to pay the price for. On Thursday, he told reporters that, all evidence to the contrary, Republicans are working on a terrific new health-care plan:
Trump named Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) as the point people on Capitol Hill crafting the legislation.“They are going to come up with something really spectacular,” Trump told reporters before heading to a political rally in Michigan.Trump also claimed that Republicans “will take care of preexisting conditions better than they’re taken care of now.”The ACA makes it illegal for health insurers to deny coverage or raise rates on anyone with a preexisting or current illness. Trump did not expand on how it would be improved.Trump also sounded triumphant about a lawsuit brought by 20 states seeking that Obamacare be ruled unconstitutional.
It’s going to be spectacular! And if the courts take health-care coverage away from 20 million people and protections for preexisting conditions from tens of millions more? What a triumph.
So now congressional Republicans have two options: They can try to cobble together some doomed bill that will open them up to a whole new round of attacks from Democrats, or they can just hope that Trump forgets all about it in a day or two.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly favors the latter course:
Mitch McConnell has no intention of leading President Donald Trump’s campaign to transform the GOP into the “party of health care.”“I look forward to seeing what the president is proposing and what he can work out with the speaker,” McConnell said in a brief interview Thursday, adding, “I am focusing on stopping the ‘Democrats’ Medicare for none’ scheme.”
In other words: This isn’t our problem here in the Senate; if the White House wants to devise a health-care plan, it should go right ahead. Which, as McConnell well knows, the White House won’t.
He would rather deal with health care not by being for anything, but by tossing out ridiculous lies about how whatever Democrats propose will produce a cataclysm, particularly for older people, who are especially protective of their big-government insurance program and are easy to scare. The White House is getting into that act, too; on Thursday, press secretary Sarah Sanders put out a statement saying the Democrats’ “socialist agenda would result in 180 Million Americans losing their healthcare coverage and, in particular, would drastically hurt seniors.”
As my colleague Greg Sargent noted the other day, the administration’s full embrace of the lawsuit seeking to abolish the ACA has made it much harder for Republicans to claim that they’re committed to the popular things the ACA does, such as guaranteeing protections for people with preexisting conditions. But more than that, Trump is showing that he won’t let them do what they’d really like to: ignore the health-care issue completely.
The nice thing about just saying “the Democrats want to destroy our fantastic health-care system, which is also a nightmare because of President Barack Obama!” and leaving it at that is that it really doesn’t take any thought or work. Which brings us to something Republicans would rather not admit, but which is vital to the way this issue has played out over the past decade: Republicans just don’t care about health-care policy.
That’s first because many of them don’t care all that much about policy in general — if you just want to make government smaller, the details of how government works don’t really matter to you — and second because it just isn’t something they find interesting or important. They care about taxes and the military, and some of them might care a bit about some other policy areas such as protections for the environment or workers, at least insofar as they want to dismantle them. But health care? It’s just not their thing. The fact that people have no coverage or no access to care just isn’t something that animates them.
But when Democrats began their effort to reform health care in 2009, Republicans had no choice but to pay attention to it, if only so that they could spread lies about it (death panels!) and argue that if the ACA were passed, the United States would quickly be transformed into a statist hellscape.
They cared so little about it, in fact, that despite spending years saying they wanted to “repeal and replace” the ACA, and passing symbolic measures to repeal it through the House somewhere between 50 and 100 times (depending on who’s counting) to keep their base angry, they never bothered to come up with the “replace” part. Then when they found themselves in control of both the White House and Congress in 2017, they had to scramble to come up with a half-baked plan that failed to pass the Senate, no doubt to the relief of many of them who were terrified of the backlash it produced.
As unpleasant as all that was for them, they could take some solace in the fact that it liberated them from having to pretend to care about the health-care issue. And now that Democrats control the House, it’s not as though they can do anything about it anyway.
But Trump keeps messing with their plans. Now he’s telling people that there’s a new Republican health plan on the way, which is the last thing they want to put forward. And as we move into the 2020 campaign, he’s going to keep doing it. That’s what Trump does — he promises to do things he won’t do, and says that things exist when they don’t. And every time he does, other Republican officeholders are going to face more uncomfortable questions, so instead of being able to say, “Democrats want to force every senior to donate a kidney to an illegal alien!” and leave it at that, they will have to answer questions about their own nonexistent “plan.”
Health care was always going to be a tough issue for Republicans in 2020, just as it was in 2018. But it’s clear that Trump is going to make it much worse for them.