Republicans took careful notes about the mistakes Democrats made as they passed Obamacare in 2010 and exploited them relentlessly to undermine support for the law.
Now that they’re trying to repeal the law, they are walking into some of the same traps.
The Republicans’ déjà vu is unfolding in five acts:
1) Making promises they can’t keep
Perhaps no line uttered by Barack Obama created greater backlash than his promise that if Americans liked their health plans they could keep them. (Politifact named it the Lie of the Year for 2013.) He also said the law would bring down family premiums by more than $2,500.
None of those pledges were kept, and Republicans blasted the “broken promises” every chance they got.
But now, Republicans are making far more grandiose claims for their Obamacare replacement bill.
President Donald Trump said in January that the GOP measure would provide “insurance for everybody,” while HHS Secretary Tom Price vowed last week “nobody will be worse off financially” because of the bill.
Both promises would be virtually impossible to keep even without 24 million fewer people having insurance, if the CBO projection is correct. That report also identified older people not yet covered by Medicare as particularly vulnerable under the GOP plan.
Under Obamacare, a 64-year-old making $26,500 per year would pay about $1,700 for the annual premium. Under the GOP plan, that would spike to $14,600.
Trump has made other rhetorical assertions that don’t square with the bill. He vowed on the campaign trail that he wouldn’t touch Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. But the CBO said the Obamacare repeal bill would cut $880 billion from Medicaid — about one-quarter of the program’s funding — as it ends the traditional entitlement in favor of capped payments to the states.
He also promised to eliminate the high deductibles some Obamacare enrollees face. But the CBO concluded that deductibles on average would be higher under the GOP plan that under the ACA.
2) Going it alone
Republicans chastised Democrats for enacting Obamacare with only Democratic votes and using a complicated budget procedure to get some of it through the Senate without a filibuster.
But now they’re doing exactly the same thing to repeal the law. No Democratic is expected to support the repeal effort.
“I am beside myself at the hypocrisy of us being lectured — we had days and days of hearing, hours and hours of hearings, lots of amendments, and Mitch McConnell announced we’re ramming this through” if the bill comes to the Senate, said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “Oh and by the way, without a single Democratic vote. I think that’s what they lectured us on for seven years: How dangerous it is to do something that’s not bipartisan.”
Even Republican critics of the House bill say that GOP leaders aren’t being transparent about the bill.
“This is exactly the type of back-room dealing and rushed process that we criticized Democrats for and it is not what we promised the American people,” said Republican Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
3) Muddy messaging
In 2010, Democrats kept shifting their pitch on Obamacare from how it would rein in health costs, to how it would extend coverage to millions of uninsured, to how it would stop insurance abuses.
Republicans haven’t provided a cohesive message, either. At Tuesday’s White House briefing, in the course of a few minutes, press secretary Sean Spicer bounced from saying the president’s goal is to provide “health care coverage to every American,” to “make insurance available for everybody.”
A voter might be forgiven for having a hard time grasping Price’s recent description on Meet the Press, of a GOP plan “that respects the principles of accessibility for all, affordability for all, quality, and choices for patients, making certain that we, again, have that patient-centered system.”
Like the Democrats, Republicans seem to be trying out different messages — and so far, none have been nearly as potent as their takedowns of Obamacare.
And just as Democrats called the Affordable Care Act a “starter home” that would be built upon, Republicans are promising that they will expand upon their own health care bill. They’ve referred to it as the first of “three prongs,” to be followed by administrative changes and follow-up legislation that would require 60 votes in the Senate.
“The pain that individuals and families are feeling across the country is palpable,” McConnell said Tuesday. “Republicans have heard their call and we’ve developed a three-pronged approach to stabilize the health care market and help it grow into the future.”
4) Intraparty squabbling
Democrats spent months trying to bring together the liberal wing of the party, intent on creating a public insurance option, and moderates skeptical even of setting up marketplaces and offering insurance subsidies to those eligible. They lost valuable time getting their own members in line (and many more months trying to court Republicans).
A variety of Republicans are unlikely to support the bill in the House, let alone in the Senate, according to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who wants the House to slow down to resolve disagreements.
“They come from all stripes,” Cotton said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Tuesday. “They’re not just hardline conservatives. Many of them are centrists, or many of them are just being practical-minded about this bill the way I am.”
To be sure, Democrats eventually came together to pass Obamacare. It’s still unclear whether Republicans will join hands.
5) Underestimating the opposition
Democrats always predicted the public would get on board with Obamacare after Americans began to have firsthand experience of the benefits. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), now minority leader, said Democrats would run on their vote in support of the law. Other Democrats repeated the phrase, “good policy is good politics.” They ignored the Republican-led opposition to “government-run health care” although it blindsided them at the polls for several election cycles.
Republicans risk doing the same thing. They argue their voters sent them to Washington to repeal Obamacare. But polls show that support for Obamacare — which was consistently split over the law’s seven years — has risen slightly since the repeal effort began. It remains to be seen whether there will be electoral payback if they pass the repeal measure.
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