Obamacare wins again

7/21/2017, 1:48 p.m.
After Republicans spectacularly failed to gather enough votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump should consider changing his slogan ...

After Republicans spectacularly failed to gather enough votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump should consider changing his slogan from “Make America Great Again” to “Hey, We Tried.”

And somewhere, I am so sure, former President Obama is smiling.

His signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, survived with all of its imperfections — and it’s apparently growing in popularity — after a Republican push to repeal and replace it fell apart Monday night.

After a few weeks of closed-door meetings and a lot of backstage bargaining for votes, support for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ACA repeal-and-replace bill, nicknamed Trumpcare, collapsed like a leaky blimp.

Relying solely on Republican votes, support for the bill melted away after two conservative Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, said they would not vote for it. That put the final nails in Trumpcare’s coffin.

Good riddance. Among other problems, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the GOP’s Senate bill would leave 22 million people without insurance coverage, a toll surpassed in its cruelty only by the House Republican bill, which the CBO says would deny health care to 24 million Americans.

What went wrong for repeal? Three problems stand out.

One, after years of promising repeal and repeatedly voting for it — only to be repeatedly vetoed by President Obama — congressional Republicans neglected to come up with an alternative plan.

Two, the GOP’s failure to create an alternative plan exposed deep fissures. The polarization within the party and the reduction of moderates to an endangered species has left the GOP too divided within their own ranks to reach a consensus on the best remedy for Obamacare’s ills.

Third, President Trump is too inexperienced in government and too clueless about how Capitol Hill works to provide the leadership and arm-twisting that get important bills passed. That has left even more heavy lifting for Sen. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan without much help from the president, beyond his cheerleading tweets.

Also, let’s face it. The Republicans have not had their heart in this fight. Health care has long been a top agenda item for Democrats in the way that tax cuts are for Republicans. That’s why the GOP health care bills, short on spending and long on tax cuts, have looked more like tax reform legislation than health care bills.

But, after making ACA repeal a top priority, Republicans own the health care issue now, whether they like it or not. That’s particularly embarrassing for GOP leaders. Even with control of the White House and Congress, the Trump-era GOP has yet to send up a major piece of legislation for President Trump’s signature.

Obamacare repeal now joins Trump’s proposed tax code overhaul, his proposed “trillion-dollar infrastructure” and his proposed Mexican border wall among major promises that are stalled.

Having failed at the repeal-and-replace approach, Sen. McConnell briefly proposed repeal-and-delay. He floated the idea of bringing the House-passed bill up for consideration “in the coming days” and amending it with a full repeal and a two-year delay for implementation.

At least three Republican senators said they wouldn’t support that path, though, and it was dropped Tuesday. Sen. McConnell can say, again, “Well, we tried.”

His best chance is if he genuinely reaches out to Democrats, whom he has threatened to approach if he doesn’t get enough cooperation from his fellow Republicans. Democratic leaders have said all along that the ACA needs improving, not repeal. No argument there. What’s hard to imagine is actual bipartisan cooperation in today’s divided Congress. Still, it’s worth a try.