I haven’t read Politico regularly enough over the past few years to be entirely certain, but it seems to me those “gotta win the morning” folks have become since the last election a bit less the stenographers of power and somewhat more often the critical observers; does that fit your experience?
Witness Harold Pollack’s politely titled piece today, “Paul Ryan Failed Because His Bill Was a Dumpster Fire”. Pollack doesn’t fail to point out all the ways Paul Ryan and his allies might have tried to improve their bill’s chances, both process issues such as working with moderates to lure a few Democrats rather than expecting the Freedom Caucus to come round, and policy issues like the explicit transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars from the poor and sick to the top 1%. Consider that under the Ryan bill the richest 400 households in the US would have seen a tax cut greater than the total expenditures for premium tax credits under Obamacare for the twenty smallest states plus the District of Columbia.
A shrewd legislator would have found a way to make this less obvious. Ryan’s reputation for intelligence seems in this case to have overshot his actual capacities.
But it’s not simple legislative tactics or even longer-term strategy that’s at issue here, as Pollack notes.
So why did Republicans fail? In a word: insincerity. Republicans had seven years to do their own hard work, to coalesce around a credible conservative alternative to the ACA. They might have used this time to work with Republican governors, to explore which conservative policy ideas seem to stick, which aspects of ACA needed to be retained. They might have crafted a more moderate bill along the lines of the Cassidy-Collins bill, which would have given liberal states and Republican governors who adopted Medicaid expansion much greater leeway. Or they might have refined another conservative model, such as Avik Roy’s modifications to ACA exchanges, to turn ACA’s exchanges in a more conservative direction. They might have prepared the American public for whatever plan they chose.
They didn’t do any of this, perhaps because they believed they would never have to. Secure in the knowledge that they would face President Obama’s veto, Republicans rammed through a succession of extreme repeal-and-replace bills that resembled AHCA’s original draft. These bills excited the Republican base, but would have horrified most other Americans if they ever found sufficient reason to look. Then Congressional Republicans suffered what George W. Bush might call a “catastrophic success” with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. They had nothing real to deliver.
Much has been made of Republicans’ hypocrisy in trying to ram the AHCA through Congress after complaining so vociferously about the legislative process that produced Obamacare. This hurt House Republicans less than the shoddy content of their actual bill, and the glaring mismatch between their political rhetoric and what their actual policy proposals were designed to do.