Cheer up, Republicans. Sometimes, what looks and feels like a loss is really a win.
Usually it takes a while for the all-for-the-best benefits of a short-term defeat to sink in. But the health care bill that the Republicans pulled at the last minute on Friday would have quickly made the GOP nostalgic for the days when they could take bows for show votes repealing the Affordable Care Act for the umpteenth time.
Had the bill passed, Republicans would have lost both politically and in human terms as the bill devastated many of the very voters who believed President Donald Trump’s campaign promise that “everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
Neither Candidate nor President Trump ever provided any specifics, and that this was always magical thinking became even clearer with his recent exclamation that no one knew health care reform was so difficult.
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What happened on Friday was still better than the alternative, even for Republicans such as Texan Kevin Brady, who just before the legislation was pulled declared himself “proud of the $1 trillion in tax relief” in the bill, which would have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and lower-income Americans. The legislation would have cut Medicaid and given those making more than $1 million a year a tax break totaling $144 billion over 10 years.
First, let’s review the damage the bill itself would have done: Millions of Americans would have lost insurance coverage, and costs would not have been lowered. Letting people wait until they get sick to buy insurance while still guaranteeing coverage could only result in terrible coverage or even more expensive plans.
The bill essentially said companies could offer junk insurance because they’d no longer have to cover certain basics. Among the cuts were mental health care, maternity care and treatment for addiction — amid an opioid crisis that Trump promised to fix.
Then, look at the politics: Sure, this makes the negotiator-in-chief look fallible. But the hit the GOP would have taken for passing this flawed bill would have been far worse in the not-so-distant future. Paying more for less is not what you want to run on.
The process, too, was more fouled-up than the one “ramming through Obamacare” that Republicans spent all those years complaining about. Democrats were not consulted, in marked contrast to the months President Barack Obama spent inviting Republicans to the table.
The GOP replacement bill was put together so quickly and revised so repeatedly that even the Congressional Budget Office couldn’t keep up.
And as for the people involved, neither Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas nor Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri did right by constituents in refusing to announce a position on the bill, keeping fingers in the wind right up until the end.
In the final hours of debate on Friday, Massachusetts Democrat Joe Kennedy, whose great-uncle Ted Kennedy dedicated much of his public life to pushing for universal coverage, ended his remarks in the House by quoting from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful,” he said, “for they shall be shown mercy.”
Republicans were shown mercy on Friday, and it’s a blessing that for now, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are moving on to other matters.
“We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” Ryan said. He dubbed Democrats the unlucky ones: “We were going to be doing the architects of Obamacare a favor” by replacing it, he said. Which does not fill us with hope that in the wake of this comeuppance — “the growing pains of governing” Ryan called it — Congress is ready to get serious about the difficult matter of addressing the high cost of health care without decimating coverage.