President Trump, Republicans in Congress Face Stunning Defeat on Healthcare

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U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the health care bill was pulled before a vote, with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (L) and Vice President Mike Pence, in Washington, U.S. March 24, 2017: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Glynn Wilson –

President Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress suffered a stunning political defeat on Friday when House leaders withdrew legislation to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare, when it became obvious they did not have the votes to pass the so-called American Health Care Act to replace the Affordable Care Act.

This means defeat for one of the president’s signature campaign promises and for the Republicans in Congress who have been running on repealing Obamacare for the past seven years.

Urban Republican moderates in the Northeast and west and the party’s most conservative members urged the leadership to pull the bill rather than forcing a losing vote, which would have put them all on the record as either for replacement or opposed to it, potentially hurting many of their reelection chances in 2018.

While unified in their opposition, Trump tried to blame Democrats for his first major legislative failure, a move that might convince some of his unique conservative base but not anyone else.

Trump and the Republican leadership issued an ultimate on Thursday saying they would bring the issue to a do or die vote on Friday. Desperate last minute lobbying by the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, failed to round up the 216 votes needed to pass it.

“We learned a lot about loyalty,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We learned a lot about the vote-getting process.”

Since the president and Republican leaders seem to be willing to accept defeat and not keep trying on the health care initiative so they can move on to tax cuts and other policy goals, that means President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – “remains in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it,” according to Reuters.

“The healthcare failure called into question not only Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through Congress, but the Republican Party’s capacity to govern effectively,” Reuters reports. “Neither Trump nor Ryan indicated any plans to try to tackle healthcare legislation again anytime soon … the White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan that satisfied the clashing interests of moderates and conservatives, despite Trump’s vaunted image as a deal maker.”

Trump said he would turn his attention to getting “big tax cuts” through Congress, something that might be even harder now considering how easy it was to stop the momentum on health care.

“Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, Ryan, who championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House,” Reuters reported. “Ryan said he recommended that it be withdrawn from the House floor because he did not have the votes to pass it, and Trump agreed.”

Democrats had argued that the bill would take away medical insurance from millions of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system in “disarray.” Some Republicans opposed the bill, worried that constituents hurt by it would rally against them in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Trump didn’t seem all that concerned about the loss, Tweeting once again that “Obamacare is imploding” and claiming the Democrats would eventually come to him to save they system, a delusional position.

Critics are jumping on the failure to cast doubt on whether Speaker Ryan has what it takes to pass major legislation with a fractious Republican membership.

“I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” Ryan said at a news conference, adding that his fellow Republicans are experiencing what he called “growing pains” transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party.

“Obamacare’s the law of the land,” Ryan added. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Members of the so-called Freedom Caucus, a group of the House’s most conservative members, played a key role in the bill’s failure, opposing it for not going far enough to get the government out of regulating health care.

Trump said he was disappointed and “a little surprised” with that.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said under the Republican legislation 14 million people would lose medical coverage by next year and more than 24 million would be uninsured in 2026.

One Republican lawmaker who was in on urging the leadership to pull the bill rather than hold a vote, Dana Rohrabacher of California, said a losing vote would have been seen as ”neutering Trump” while empowering his opponents.

“You don’t cut the balls off a bull and then expect that he can go out and get the job done,” Rohrabacher told Reuters. “This will emasculate Trump and we can’t do that. … If we bring this down now, Trump will have lost all of his leverage to pass whatever bill it is, whether it’s the tax bill or whatever reforms that he wants.”

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, when asked why his fellow Republicans were so united over the past seven years to dump Obamacare only to fall apart when they actually do something about it, said, “Sometimes you’re playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the real game.”

Obamacare boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. About 20 million Americans gained insurance coverage through the law.

The House plan would have rescinded a range of taxes created by Obamacare, ended a penalty on people who refuse to obtain health insurance, and ended Obamacare’s income-based subsidies to help people buy insurance while creating less-generous age-based tax credits

It also would have ended Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid state-federal insurance program for the poor, cut future federal Medicaid funding and let states impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

House leaders agreed to a series of last-minute changes to try to win over disgruntled conservatives, including ending the Obamacare requirement that insurers cover certain “essential benefits” such as maternity care, mental health services and prescription drug coverage.

But in the end it was not enough to obtain the necessary number of votes to pass. Democrats are celebrating all over the country.

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.