The last big Republican lie on health care

The Observer editorial board

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to fight on against Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to fight on against Obamacare. The Washington Post

Moments after the latest Republican health care bill died Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed that Republicans instead repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately, but let it live for two years while they come up with a replacement. President Trump, at least initially, agreed in a tweet.

As that repeal-and-replace effort crumbled in less than a day Tuesday, McConnell vowed to press on against Obamacare. Trump, pivoting from his earlier tweet, suggested that he’d be happy to just let Obamacare “fail.”

You should know this by now, but: Don’t believe them.

Don’t believe Republicans about Obamacare, because the GOP has been wrong again and again – often intentionally so – about the Affordable Care Act. It’s not dying, as lawmakers insist. It’s stabilizing, and it could be made stronger if Republicans worked with Democrats to fix its flaws.

Don’t believe Republicans about their health care solutions, because they have too often misled Americans about what their legislation would accomplish. That includes the White House encouraging Americans to ignore dire estimates about Republican bills from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. That also includes McConnell secretly telling moderate Republicans last week that Medicaid cuts in the Senate health care bill would never actually happen.

Don’t believe Republicans about just letting Obamacare die because being inattentive – or worse, sabotaging the bill by cutting off subsidies to insurers – could result in a health care (and political) disaster. Insurers want stability; without it, premiums will spike and millions will lose coverage.

Most of all, don’t believe Republicans about finding a viable replacement for the Affordable Care Act, because if the last six months have shown us anything, it’s that the party in power is incapable of doing so.

In part, that’s because the different wings of the GOP want very different things from a health care bill. Conservatives want to go back to the lesser-regulated life before Obamacare, while moderates want to keep some ACA benefits and Medicaid growth. That’s incompatible.

But more so, Republicans are stuck because Obamacare has won the philosophical war. Americans have decided it’s better for more people to have insurance than for taxes to be cut for the wealthy. Americans also have decided they want the protections Obamacare provides, especially for pre-existing conditions.

Some Republicans have realized this, and they are calling for Democrats and Republicans to come together to work on health care. We agree so long as that work leads to strengthening, not dismantling, the ACA’s structural integrity.

Other Republicans, however, remain unable to take even that step. For them, we recommend heeding what another president suggested more than 60 years ago. That president was Dwight Eisenhower, and his Republican party had been trying for more than a decade to kill Franklin Roosevelt’s popular New Deal programs, including Social Security. If they succeeded, Eisenhower said: “You would not hear of that party again in our political history.”

Republicans should recognize a similar peril today. Repeal or not repeal, they’ve lost on Obamacare. It’s time to stop lying – to themselves.