John Boehner, the man who repeated "repeal and replace Obamacare" so often that it became a political catchphrase, admitted last week that his fellow Republicans are incapable of keeping that promise and always have been. "That's not what's going to happen," the former speaker said, "They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.”
That's stunning, because with that admission Boehner basically acknowledged that his party's core messaging of the last seven years had been a fraud, and that the party leadership knew it all along. For seven years, they whipped their base into a frenzy over a promise that they had no intention or capability of keeping.
Because as Boehner also acknowledged, "In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health-care proposal should look like. Not once.”
Oh, they can agree on saying "no." From the very beginning, since the initial debate over passage of the Affordable Care Act back in 2009, they have proved themselves capable of "no".
"Did Obama and the Democrats propose it?"
"Then the answer is no."
"But it's a Republican plan, pushed by folks such as Newt Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation. Mitt Romney implemented it in Massachusetts. Conservative politicians like state Sen. Judson Hill in Georgia introduced versions of it in state Legislatures."
"Oh. Then the answer is no longer no."
"It's HELL no."
And why can't Republicans get to yes, even when negotiating strictly among themselves? As Boehner learned, it's a question of math, of getting 218 GOP votes from a House caucus that is deeply, fundamentally split.
A significant number of those House Republicans want to get the federal government out of health care altogether. They do not believe that access to health care is a right. And if millions of Americans are stripped of health insurance and thousands or tens of thousands of Americans die as a result of repealing Obamacare without some means of replacing their coverage, that is less important to them than preserving their own ideological purity.
On the other hand, another fairly large piece of the GOP caucus is ready to forget repeal. They understand that problems with the Affordable Care Act are inevitable with any major program seven years after its launch, and they are ready to accept the basic design of the plan and take political credit for fixing its shortcomings. A lot of those legislators come from states such as Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Arkansas or other states that have accepted Medicaid expansion and as a result have seen a healthier population and a more viable health-care industry, particularly in rural areas. Going backward is not an option, as the town halls have made clear to some.
To get enough votes to pass a bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan needs a plan that will satisfy both groups of Republicans. No plausible plan that accomplishes that feat, and the draft outline of a plan released by Ryan earlier this month is no exception.
Then there's the question of where President Trump will come down. “I am going to take care of everybody,” he said back in the campaign. “I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
He reiterated that after the election as well. His plan would not only maintain coverage for those covered by Obamacare, he said. It would actually expand coverage to include those still outside the system. "It's going to be — what my plan is is that I want to take care of everybody," Trump said. "I'm not going to leave the lower 20 percent that can't afford insurance."
So, a plan that meets the promises made repeatedly by Trump, that can satisfy the contradictory demands within the House GOP caucus, and that then passes the Senate as well?
As Boehner says, good luck with that.