After the collapse of the ObamaCare Replacement bill in the Senate this week, Mitch McConnell and many in the conservative movement have adopted a new strategy: vote again on the pure ObamaCare repeal bill that passed both the House and the Senate in 2015. Their thinking is that a repeal-only bill will fulfill at least a part of repeated campaign pledges by the President and many Senators over four election cycles, even if it doesn’t win enough votes to pass.
As the promoter of a somewhat similar strategy on tax reform, which I called Sunset the Tax Code, I was initially inclined to support the repeal now, replace-later strategy. But I’ve now come to the conclusion that for Republicans to promote a re-vote of the 2015 ObamaCare repeal bill would be a big mistake. It could become a trap that would jeopardize Republican majorities in 2018 and could even bring about the impeachment of Donald Trump.
Follow me along step-by-step. And while I’ll focus on the Senate where the Republican margin is smaller, a similar scenario could play out in parallel in the House of Representatives.
Most Washington observers believe that a repeal-only vote will fail in the Senate, because some of those who killed the two McConnell bills will also vote against repeal only, as may some others in swing states where Obamacare is popular. Republican Senators who want to look like strong, principled conservatives can vote for repeal to please their base voters, confident that they’ll never actually pay the price for taking health insurance away from millions. Therefore, this thinking goes, good conservatives should support repeal only as the right thing to do at this time, a principled stance against ObamaCare, but one without any real political cost because the bill won’t become law.
However, I worry that scheming Democrat Senators like the reliably reptilian Senator Schumer may pull a fast one and ask several of their Democrat colleagues in secure seats not up for reelection in 2018 to supply the missing votes and actually pass the repeal-only bill, as a surprise strategy, executed at the last minute. Their ostensible reasoning could be that it will make it easier to replace it with single-payer if Obamacare is scheduled to end at some point. If the House passes or has already passed the same repeal-only bill, then it would go to the President who has openly advocated for it, and thus would be nearly certain to sign it. The deceitful Democrats voting for repeal-only could even boast about their strategy to trap the Republicans into a vote that would take away health insurance coverage from millions, especially the poor, thus validating the claim that Republicans are just plain mean and don’t like poor people.
The stage would then be set for pandemonium, because if ObamaCare were scheduled to end at some point in the near future, Republicans would be forced to try to pass a replacement vehicle, which Democrats would oppose every step of the way. They would use their 48 votes in the Senate to block any Republican replacement bill that would require 60 votes. With the 2018 election year just around the corner, Democrats would charge Republicans with recklessness as well as incompetence. They’d say that Republicans were creating utter chaos with no realistic way to remedy it. They’d use their sycophants in the media to whip up widespread public hysteria over health care uncertainty, laying it all at Republicans’ feet. They’d probably try to mount a chorus of “throw them out, throw them all out” in both House and Senate races all across the country to ensure the defeat of as many Republicans as possible in both the House and Senate.
How realistic is this doomsday scenario? Even If it’s only remotely realistic, it should be taken seriously. Taking up the 2015 repeal bill in 2017 could produce an electoral disaster in 2018. And returning a Democratic majority to the House would not only give them all the Committee chairmanships, it would also give them subpoena power and an outside chance of sustaining an impeachment vote. If Democrats won a majority in the Senate also, it could even lead to the removal of Donald Trump. Please, Senator McConnell and President Trump, get off this horse before it bucks you off.
(Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring USA.)