The story of health-care policy this week, this month, and for the
last decade (at least) has been a tale of partisan folly. But fear
not, this isn’t another earnest pundit’s lament for the vital center
to emerge, phoenix-like, to form a governing coalition of moderates
in both parties. That’s not my bag.
After all, I have always argued that bipartisanship is overrated.
Bipartisan support often means unthinking support (as the Founders
could have told you). Partisans may be annoying from time to time,
but they also can be relied upon to point out the shortcomings of
what the other side is doing. When partisan criticism is missing, it
might be a sign that politicians in both parties are helping
themselves, not the country. Or, it might mean they’re pandering to
the passions of the public and press rather than doing the hard work
of thinking things through.
So you’ll get no warm and fuzzy pleading for moderates to scrub
clean the word “compromise” so that it’s no longer a dirty word in
Washington. Others can make the case for that. And besides, that
argument misses the essence of this spectacular failure. Honest
partisanship isn’t the problem, bipartisan dishonesty is.
Both parties have become defined by their lies and their refusal to
accept reality. It’s a problem bigger than health care, but health
care is probably the best illustration of it.
For seven years Republicans campaigned to repeal Obamacare. We now
know that for many of those politicians, that pledge was a sales
pitch that expired after the sale — i.e., the election — was final.
But before liberal readers pull a muscle nodding their heads: The
Democrats aren’t any better. Obamacare itself was lied into passage.
“You can keep your plan!” “You can keep your doctor!” “Your premiums
won’t go up!” These were lies. If those promises were remotely true,
Obamacare wouldn’t be the mess it is.
But these aren’t even the lies I have in mind.
The Republican “repeal and replace” bills debated for the last six
months did not in fact repeal Obamacare. They kept most of its
regulations intact — particularly the popular ones. The GOP did seek
to repeal and reform the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, but
that’s not the same thing as repealing Obamacare.
Yet Republicans insisted it was a repeal because they wanted to
claim that they fulfilled their repeal pledge. Actually fulfilling
the substance of the pledge was a low-order priority. Heroically
winning the talking point: This was their brass ring.
So, too, for the White House. Donald Trump just wanted a win. He has
made it abundantly clear that he would sign anything the Republicans
sent him — up to and possibly including the head of Alfredo Garcia
if someone had written “Obamacare: Repealed” on the poor chap’s
forehead. Trump has shown zero preference for any specific policy or
approach during these debates. He just wants the bragging rights.
And that is the one thing Democrats are most determined to deny him.
The Democrats know that Obamacare has been an albatross for their
party. They often acknowledge, through gritted teeth, that the law
needs a substantial overhaul.
More important, they also know that the GOP wasn’t pushing an actual
repeal. But they couldn’t tolerate for a moment the idea that the
Republicans would get to claim it was repeal. So the one thing both
sides could agree upon was that this was a zero-sum war over
repealing Obamacare — when it wasn’t.
This was all about bogus gasconade and rodomontade for Republicans
and insecure rhetorical wagon-circling around Barack Obama’s
“legacy” for Democrats. If Trump and the GOP agreed to abandon
“repeal,” as Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer wants, one can
only wonder how much replacing of Obamacare Schumer would allow the
GOP to get away with.
Likewise, if Democrats could somehow give Republicans the ability to
say they repealed Obamacare, many Republican senators — and
certainly Trump — would probably be happy to leave the bulk of it
It is this fact that makes the polarized, tribal climate in
Washington so frustrating. I like partisan fights when those fights
are about something real. The Medicaid fight was at least about
something real. But most of this nonsense is a battle of liars
trying to protect past lies in the hope of being able to make new
lies seem just plausible enough for the liars to keep repeating
Dems & the media want Trump to be more like Obama, but then he'd
have to audit liberals & wire tap reporters' phones.