Jay Bookman

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

Opinion: Hey GOP, got an Obamacare plan yet?

As far back as September 2010, Republicans have been promising the American people that they had "a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of health care."

They repeated that promise throughout 2011 and 2012 and ...

"I expect our conference in the coming weeks to have a discussion about Obamacare and how we're going to deal with it, and what the replacement legislation would look like," then-Speaker John Boehner said in 2013.

"This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House," then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised in early 2014.

The names have changed over the years -- both Boehner and Cantor have been cast aside -- but the tune has not changed a whit. In a joint budget resolution passed in early 2017, the Republican House and Republican Senate ordered the four committees with jurisdiction -- two in each chamber -- to produce an Obamacare replacement plan no later than Jan. 27. It is now Feb. 8, almost two weeks past that deadline. The relevant committees have failed to complete their assignment, which is bad enough; the real scandal is that they failed to even begin trying. The closest they came was a House subcommittee vote to deny Medicaid to major lottery winners, which sounds fine I guess but does not exactly constitute a replacement plan.

Now we can add Trump himself to the chorus. Back on Jan. 10, the then-president-elect demanded that Congress move to repeal Obamacare immediately, within a week, with a vote on a replacement bill "very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter."

"Long to me would be weeks," Trump said. "It won't be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan."

Except yes, it will be. In an interview broadcast Sunday on Fox, Trump reassured us that he has "a wonderful plan," but had no details. "We’re gonna be putting it in fairly soon. I think that, yes, I would like to say, by the end of the year, at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year."

Or the year after that.

In short, after all this time and all these promises, they still have no idea what to do or how to do it. They know it's going to be a great plan, a wonderful plan, "a patient-centered plan with common-sense reforms," whatever that might mean, but behind that facade of glittering generalities they got nothing. Their inability to even begin grappling with the problem may be the single biggest act of long-running governmental malpractice that we have witnessed in modern times, which I concede is saying an awful lot.

They can't even agree -- Republican with Republican -- on what the goals of such a plan should be. Some talk now of repair and rebuild rather than repeal. Others still insist on tearing the entire thing down, including cancellation of Medicaid expansion and subsidies that would leave tens of millions uninsured. House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, tabbed to be secretary of Health and Human Services, has even proposed to cut an additional $1 trillion from traditional Medicaid over the next decade, which would add millions more to the uninsured rolls.

Trump and others appear to strongly disagree.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," Trump promised The Washington Post. "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it. That's not going to happen with us."

“Let me be clear,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the House Republican Conference “No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage. We’re providing relief. We aren’t going to pull the rug out from anyone.”

How do you bridge that chasm between the total repeal that party leaders have long promised and the political necessity to somehow keep insuring millions? You can't. You simply can't. Boehner understood that, Cantor understood that, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell understand it as well, which is why they have all dodged the issue for so long.

Well, the time for dodging will soon come to an end, and I'm very much looking forward to watching.



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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.