The Republicans may still manage to find a way to deliver one of the big promises to voters, that of Obamacare reform. We had been skeptical, simply because the House Freedom Caucus has succeeded in getting a tough enough version of the bill passed, and there would not be enough Senators who would be willing to risk their political futures by taking such a hard core position.
However, an additional possible point of failure has emerged: the difficulty in reaching agreement even among Senators. The issue is that some Republican Senators are from states that embraced Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. Those Senators are understandably loath to vote for cutting health care benefits, since it would make for easy fodder for a challenger.
As the Wall Street Journal explains:
States that expanded Medicaid under the law are anxious not to see people lose health coverage or state budgets squeezed. States that didn’t expand Medicaid are reluctant to see other states benefit financially for making a choice they considered irresponsible.
There are about an equal numbers of red states in each camp.
Ugh, from the dealmakers’ perspective.
A couple of Republican insiders had opined that Obamacare reform needed to be settled by July at the latest, since it was perceived as critical to have it put to bed early and well before 2018 campaign dynamics slowed the legislative calendar. The Journal confirms that view. It reports that the intent is for the Senate to resolve its impasse before the July 4 recess so that both chambers can hash out differences before the end of July.
Both sides are trying to find a way to square the circle, such as by stealth cuts, such as increases that lag the inflation rate, or by allowing Medicaid expansion states to wind back their programs on an attenuated timetable:
Some conservative strategists said the best course for a deal on Medicaid is to restrict federal funding to a set amount for each person enrolled but allow states to retain more generous eligibility rules for a longer period. Such a proposal could represent a net win for states that opted not to expand the program, while allowing states that did to figure out how to offer coverage for people who qualify according the standards they want to set.
Another concept being discussed is cutting off federal Medicaid funding for people with incomes above the poverty level, and moving those people into subsidized private-insurance plans, people familiar with the conversations said. That idea is being promoted by Mr. Kasich, although it is unlikely to appease the more stringent advocates of cutting federal spending on Medicaid.
As we know from Obamacare, if you have a low income, even a subsidized insurance policy can break your household budget. The CBO scoring of whatever plan the Senate settles upon, assuming they can get to an agreement, will also have a big impact on the reconciliation talks. Any “end Obamacare” bill has to reduce the number of people covered. If the press blowback is strong, that may stiffen the Senate negotiators’ position relative to their House counterpart, which would increase the odds of a stalemate.
Either way, the Republicans intend to either get a bill signed relatively soon or move on. They need to be able to claim some accomplishments by election time 2018, and if Obamacare is too tough a nut to crack, they will move on to tax “reform”.
The Obamacare gridlock demonstrates how what appeared to be a winning strategy for attaining power has hobbled the Republicans, and to some degree, the Democrats too. While the Republicans are regularly accused of successful gerrymandering, professor Tom Ferguson, who has kept meticulous databases of national voting results since 1982, says the impact on party results in Congress is much lower than the Democratic complaints would have you believe. But the impact on political dynamic may be much greater.
Some Democratic party interest groups, in particular La Raza, were keen to create “minority majority” districts to increase the number of minority representatives in Congress. Needless to say, their biggest allies were the Republicans. But the flip side of carving out “minority majority” districts was that even more Republican districts were lily-white, or close to that, than you would have gotten through normal gerrymandering.
While I can’t prove it, the politically-savvy people I’ve consulted with concur with the thesis that the resulting more homogeneous districts were a big part of the rise of the Tea Party and other hard-core right wing elements in the former stodgy pro-business Republican party. Recall that in solid red districts, the primary campaigns are where the real battles take place, and they are often races to see who can present himself as the more diehard conservative.
And it’s the rise of this hard core radical wing that has now made it very hard for Republicans to get anything done legislatively. Trump does understand that his job is to sign Republican bills, so as rocky as his presidency has been for the party, the probable failure of Obamacare reform can’t be laid at his feet.
And while the “minority majority” strategy may have been useful for the Democrats too, that approach has been pushed well beyond its point of maximum advantage, as demonstrated by how the Democrats have focused unduly on identity politics and assumed that waving that flag would lead voters to forgive them for presiding over the damage done to the poor and middle class in the Clinton and Obama Administrations.
In other words, politics is all about compromise, but both parties have evolved in ways that make that harder than before, and have managed to lose credibility with voters in the process. Not exactly a responsible posture for a wanna-be governing elite.