I'm sitting here watching in amazement as Republicans in Washington try to claim that really, they really really do have a plan for how they're going to replace Obamacare, but you see, the dog must have eaten it or the Russians must have stolen it or here's a note explaining that they need to be excused from the assignment because their grandmother died and can they bring it in next year or maybe in 2018?
"Ummm, isn't this the 50th time your grandmother died, son?"
"Well, uh, you see, we come from a large family."
It's all the more amazing when I think back to an interview we had at the AJC with then-U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, in which both Republican leaders were adamant about the evils of Obamacare and the necessity of replacing it as soon as possible.
When pressed, though, neither man had any idea what that replacement might look like or how it might operate. As I wrote at the time:
'So if the GOP plan is going to ensure that pre-existing conditions are covered, as Chambliss and McConnell suggested, how would they do it without individual mandates? What mechanism would they use? Chambliss and McConnell had no answer. Literally.
After Chambliss fumbled an initial response, McConnell broke in with a long and familiar condemnation of the Democratic plan, including its failure to include tort reform. After a few minutes, I interrupted and brought him back to the question: OK, but how are the Republicans going to cover pre-existing conditions?
"The premiums are going up either way," he said.
OK, I responded, a little stunned. That doesn’t explain how the Republicans intend to cover pre-existing conditions.
"The premiums are going up either way," he repeated.
That was that. We moved on, and I still don’t have my answer."
Back then, I thought that their inability to propose even a rough, working outline of an alternative to Obamacare demonstrated a profound lack of seriousness on their part, but I had no idea how deep that irresponsibility would eventually run. None of us did. That conversation took place in early 2010. It is now early 2017, almost seven years later, and McConnell and his fellow Republicans have no more idea of how to respond than they did back then.
Seven years. Seven years in which they fought and begged and tore the country apart fighting for the opportunity that they now have, and they arrive at this moment empty-handed.
I'm tempted to call that unbelievable, but so many unbelievable things have happened since 2010 that the term has lost any meaning. But if you're a party with even the slightest bit of interest or competence in governance, if actually doing a good job for the American people means anything to you, then how do you go seven years obsessively repeating the promise to replace Obamacare and do nothing of any substance in that time frame to actually think about your goal and build consensus toward it?
Yes, I know: They'll tell you they have plans, just as McConnell and Chambliss claimed to have plans back in 2010. Well, I have plans to write a Hollywood screenplay that will make me millions of dollars, but ask me to see that screenplay so you can read it and judge whether it's any good and you'll get the same answer you get from McConnell to this day when you ask him to read the bill.
Just as they did back in 2010, they'll also preach to you that Obamacare is a total failure. If that were true, they wouldn't be in this predicament. If that were true, it would be easy to come up with a replacement that people would eagerly embrace and recognize as a "better way." Their problem is that they're trying to replace a success.
They are pledged to replace a program that has provided health insurance to more than 20 million Americans who previously had no coverage, without raising the deficit, and they can think of no way to replicate that. They have committed to undoing a program that has lowered the uninsured rate to the lowest level in American history, and they need some sort of legislative sorcery that will let them reverse that progress while evading the political blame for doing so. Insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, patient groups are all warning them of dire consequences if they repeal without replacing, yet onward they march.
In short, they have fashioned a trap from their own cynicism, and after seven years it has finally slammed shut on them. To get free, they may have chew their leg off.