On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump was explicit about the urgency with which the Affordable Care Act would be repealed.
“On Day One,” he said on March 3 of that year. “On my first day,” he said every day from Sept. 12 to 16. “On my first day,” he said on Sept. 21 and 22. “On my first day,” he said on Oct. 4. “First day in office,” he said on Oct. 25. Each time, the pledge was essentially the same: He would demand that Congress lay on his desk a proposal to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care law and offer a replacement.
Then something unexpected happened. He won the election.
On his first day as president, Trump didn’t receive a health-care replacement from Congress. He didn’t in his first week or his first month. By his 64th day in office, Trump was defensive, telling reporters that he’d never said he’d repeal and replace Obamacare during that initial period. Except, of course, he had.
Over and over during his presidency, Trump pledged an imminent Republican health-care bill. Sometimes, one actually materialized, as when he said in February 2017 that a measure was coming in “a couple of weeks” — shortly before the House introduced the doomed American Health Care Act. That legislation collapsed in the Republican-controlled Senate when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gave a thumbs-down to a last-ditch proposal to keep the fight alive.
After the big Republican push to overhaul the Affordable Care Act collapsed, the party turned its attention to an effort to cut corporate tax rates. That eventually passed in December 2017, using a mechanism called reconciliation, which was tied to the federal budget for 2018. All the while, Trump kept insisting that health care was coming up next. Multiple times he insisted that a health-care bill was next on the agenda, at one point saying it would be introduced at the next opportunity for reconciliation — in October 2018, when the new fiscal year began.
Last summer, though, the timeline got shorter. Repeatedly in May and June, Trump promised a new proposal in a “few weeks” or “two weeks.” Some of those pledges came before the administration announced a new system for small businesses to buy insurance as a group — but some came after. Trump promised something new at the end of May, announced the so-called association health-care rules in mid-June and then kept insisting that something else was coming in two or three weeks until the end of that month.
Something else did come in October: new rules that allowed states to authorize slimmer, less comprehensive insurance policies. That was announced shortly before the midterm election, but Trump kept promising that something else was just over the horizon. Three days after the announced revisions to what states could offer, Trump said that the administration would “soon [be] announcing some things that will really have a tremendous and positive impact on health care also. And better health care, very importantly, for every single American.”
The most recent spate of pledges came last week, after the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump authorized the Justice Department to advocate that Obamacare be thrown out entirely. He then claimed that the GOP would “soon” be the party of health care by quickly replacing the legislation. Why this would be more successful with a Democratic-controlled House than it was when Republicans held that chamber was never really clear.
Someone -- maybe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)-- pointed this out to the president, so he revamped his timeline.
“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare,” he tweeted on April 1. “In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare. Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”
As if to point out that this wasn’t related to April Fools’ Day, he made a similar claim on April 3: After the 2020 election and the inauguration of a new Congress, Republicans would, at last, pass that health-care bill they’d been talking about.
We recommend against holding your breath.