Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: GOP's tax-cut push may be Obamacare repeal all over again

Three days later, it's still hard to wrap your head around the magnitude of the Republican failure over Obamacare.

Seven long years of whining and complaining and promising, seven years of selling Obamacare as an absolutely unacceptable, existential threat to the economy, to the U.S. Constitution and to the basic tenets of American liberty, and the GOP crusade to save America from all that ends with a barely audible little pffffft? They turn this program into the biggest legislative villain in U.S. history, making its repeal the core unifying goal of their coalition, and when the opportunity comes to make good, they abandon the effort without managing even a simple floor vote?

It is both absolutely astonishing and for some of us at least, totally predictable.

How many times did critics point out that the GOP had no real plan to replace Obamacare, and how many times did Paul Ryan, Tom Price and the conservative media ostentatiously claim otherwise? How often did conservatives promise to produce a plan to provide coverage to more people at less cost with lower deductibles and more options, knowing full well that if given the chance they intended to do the exact opposite?

The finger-pointing afterward has been predictably entertaining. President Trump chose to blame the Democrats, which is like the Atlanta Falcons trying to blame their Super Bowl defeat on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. (The only thing more pathetic than blaming your opponents for beating you is when your opponents had little or nothing to do with it.) Trump's defenders are blaming Ryan, demanding his ouster as speaker, while Ryan's defenders blame the Freedom Caucus. And over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence continued to rail against Obamacare and continued to promise that Republicans would somehow repeal it.

In a way that's understandable. They've been repeating the same script over and over again for the last seven years, and they haven't found a replacement for that either.

But let's be clear: If you try to blame this massive failure on particular individuals or particular parts of the GOP, you're thinking about it wrong. A self-inflicted failure this large, this humiliating, indicts the modern Republican Party as a whole, including the conservative media apparatus that both controls it and profits from it. It reveals an entire party -- no, an entire movement -- comprised of show ponies, not work ponies. It lays bare the incompetence, the hypocrisy, the empty rhetoric, the embrace of fantasy over reality and to put it bluntly the laziness of the Republican leadership.

Democrats spent nine long, painful months trying to pass the Affordable Care Act, from the introduction of the bill by Nancy Pelosi in July 2009 to the signing ceremony in the Oval Office in March 2010, and prior to introduction of the Affordable Care Act they had invested years of policy work and consensus-building on the issue.

Ryan introduced his bill on March 6, then walked away from it on March 24.

He wasn't alone. At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer proclaimed that whatever happened, Trump could not be blamed because he had "left everything on the field." That's silly. Compared to President Obama in 2009-2010, Trump didn't even get his uniform dirty. This wasn't his fight, it wasn't his bill, he never bought into the GOP's antipathy to government involvement in health care and the truth is that he did the minimal needed to preserve his identity as leader of the Republican Party.

So now the fight turns to tax cuts, where Trump and Republicans believe they'll have an easier go of it. However, the same old problem --the gaping chasm between their populist rhetoric and their elitist policy -- will dog them there as well.

Trump was elected on the theme that the economy had been rigged on behalf of the wealthy and powerful against everybody else, and that he was the man to change it. It proved a powerful message.  A massive Reuters-Ipso poll on Election Day found that 75 percent of voters believed that "America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful." By a similar margin, voters agreed that the economy is "rigged" to benefit the wealthy, and that traditional politicians and parties "don't care about people like me."

Every poll that I can find on the topic since Election Day reports continued strong opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy. A poll taken for Politico in December found that just 13 percent of Americans and 18 percent of Trump voters backed tax reductions for the rich. In that same poll, just 22 percent of Americans and 39 percent of Trump voters backed lower taxes for corporations.

A Quinnipiac poll released Friday found similar numbers:

Only 22 percent of Americans back such tax cuts. Even among white men, Trump's core demographic, just 28 percent support it.

One of the things that so quickly turned voters against the GOP's Obamacare replacement bill was the realization that it cut $880 billion from Medicaid for lower-income Americans and handed it to wealthy Americans in the form of a tax cut. And while we don't know for sure what final form a GOP tax cut bill might take, we can infer its general direction from every other GOP tax cut proposal, all of which represent huge gains for the already wealthy.

In his post-mortem last week, Ryan talked of the difficulty of transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party, and that's a very big problem, bigger than Ryan will admit or perhaps even appreciates. For years, they have honed their appeals to racial, economic and class-based resentment -- "the politics of envy" and "class warfare", if you will -- to a razor's edge, using those appeals to hide the true impact of their proposed policies on the people who support them.

But once in power, and once confronted with the opportunity to implement those policies, their true impact becomes much much harder to hide.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.