It’s HARD to overstate the significance of the Republican House’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
It’s EASY to overstate the significance of the Republican House’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Let’s take a look at why I offer both of these assertions — and where we go from here as effective progressives.
Health-Repeal Failure Is a Game-Changer
There’s no doubt that the inability of the Republicans to muster enough votes to repeal “Obamacare” knocks the winds out of their sails and does massive damage to the entire Republican/White House agenda. Consider:
- We did it. This victory probably would never have happened without the huge outpouring of hundreds of thousands of opponents, including at Congressional “town-hall” meetings across the country earlier this month. Today’s result has vindicated the Indivisible strategy written up by former Democratic Congressional staffers, modeled on the success of the Tea Party in recent years, and it has shown that the massive upsurge in citizen activism starting with the Women’s Marches on Jan. 21 and continuing ever since can be translated into political success.
- The Republicans have made repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) their top priority, and have run on that issue every election, winning control of Congress and ultimately the White House with a promise to “repeal and replace” the health law as their first action. With unified control of the government, intensive arm-twisting by their leadership, secretive drafting of the legislation with Democrats locked out of the legislative process, a rushed calendar that allowed almost no time for consideration of the ramifications or for opposition to gel (so they thought), and a legislative process that made the Democrats unable to stop the law, they still failed. House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team appear ineffectual and incompetent. Moreover, in the process they have created deep rifts between themselves, the “Freedom Caucus” of far-right Republican legislators, and the “Tuesday Group” of less-extreme Republicans. This dramatic failure made it clear there is nothing for members to gain by risking their political necks for Ryan and may have dealt a mortal blow to House Republicans’ ability to come together around anything.
- The president dove all in on this fight, putting his reputation as Dealmaker-in-Chief on the line. Not only did he come up short; his efforts backfired. Before he started giving away the store to the far right of his party, the Republicans were short about six votes, with four more wavering; by the time the vote was canceled they were down by at least 16. Each concession to the extremists lost other members’ support without ever bringing the far-right faction on board. The fiction of Mr. T. as the brilliant negotiator was a large reason why he got into office; now he will be seen as a fraud by at least some of those who have stuck by him this long.
- The bill was so draconian, so cruel, so indefensible even before the latest negotiations made it much worse that some of the president’s biggest supporters had already turned against him, convinced that his promises of good health care for everyone were nothing but empty promises to get votes. Take the tragic story of Kraig Moss, who “sold the equipment for his construction business in upstate New York and stopped making mortgage payments so he could follow Donald Trump on the campaign trail,” attending 45 rallies, as CNN reported. After losing his 24-year-old son to heroin three years ago, Moss was drawn in by the candidate’s vow to increase addiction treatment services. But after the Republican bill was released, removing the requirement for health insurance to cover such treatment, Moss concluded the candidate was just making empty promises to get elected. As the White House and Republicans continued to push a bill that had twice as much opposition as support among the public, they did further damage to their standing with the voters.
That said …
How This Defeat Could Help the Republicans
It may seem counterintuitive, but this massive failure could turn into exactly what the Republicans need, if we aren’t smart in how we respond to it.
- If we become overconfident and decide we don’t need to keep up our activism, we might lose momentum. The thirst for power driving the reactionary agenda in Washington will not disappear after this defeat; you can bet they will try, and try, and try again to damage the country in all sorts of ways. We will need to remain vigilant, active, and engaged if we are to prevent future devastating losses.
- On the other hand, if we fail to celebrate this achievement, and if we fail to adjust our strategies in its wake, we risk losing support as we appear to be stuck on yesterday’s challenges. An hour after the vote, I received an e-mail from the ACLU’s political director calling for us to gather tomorrow to protest repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Although the message mentioned the failure of the repeal effort, it continued to say we need to rally to urge Congress to move on, ignoring that Republicans say repeal is dead in the current Congress. This angered at least one activist, who resented being asked to devote her time and energy to achieving something we’ve already won, as if nothing had changed. Not surprisingly, only nine people have RSVP’d for our local protest so far. (I am a dedicated ACLU supporter, as a donor and a volunteer. I do think their grassroots organizing strategy could and should become more sophisticated.)
- After the collapse of the Republican’s repeal effort, they will seek to restructure how they go about things, to learn lessons that may make them more effective next time — including looking for ways to reduce the effectiveness of our resistance efforts.
- The Republicans are learning the pitfalls of being the party of “no,” stuck in pure opposition mode without having anything useful to offer in place of the policies they disapprove. Now, the Democrats risk making the same mistake. I have already written to my representatives in Washington asking whether they think this would be a good time for them to offer legislation designed to address some of the problems of the Affordable Care Act, such as the number of states where most insurers have pulled out of the plan (or of the state altogether). Even if the Republicans won’t let their proposals move forward, they can use the public attention to put forth good solutions … and if they move fast, they can count on many of us to amplify that message. (Update: This evening, Michael Moore made a similar argument.)
Although this was perhaps the most crucial issue facing both sides today, the defeat of ACA repeal doesn’t mean we’ll have smooth sailing from here out. We will suffer some terrible losses in the time to come. Most issues will not touch people as personally as their health care. Many issues will not split the right wing from the ultra-right wing the way this one has.
Let us not forget we’re in this for the long haul. We mustn’t lose heart when the next defeat comes.
This afternoon the Support Team of Call4ACA, which is organizing phone banking to save health care (including a phone bank I hosted), has been suspended through next Wednesday, and instead, there will be an organizing call tonight at 8 p.m. to celebrate, talk about how this affects us, and discuss next steps. That seems smart, and I am looking forward to that call.
I recommend we all celebrate this success, recognize (and say publicly, including in social media) that this was a victory for the grassroots, and each do what we need to do in order to maintain our energy and balance for the long haul. For some, that may mean taking a few days off before diving back in on the next big issue.
My three biggest concerns under the new regime have been civil liberties, health care, and the environment. Right now, Muslim Ban 2.0 has been placed on hold by the courts, and health care is safe for the moment. The White House budget that slashes the Environmental Protection Agency and all climate-protection work has been described as “dead on arrival” by Congressional Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham; that doesn’t mean the Congress won’t get to work on something a little better, but still terrible. Democrats plan to filibuster the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; Republicans may change the rules so he can be confirmed anyway.
So, take a break, savor the success, and be ready to get back to work.
- Congressional Easter Recess, Friday, April 7 through Monday, April 24. Attend Congressional town halls and protests and seek meetings with your Senators and Representative in their district offices.
- Tax Day protests Saturday, April 15, demanding the president release his tax returns. (Since April 15 falls on a Saturday, taxes must be mailed by Monday, April 17, so you have time to protest and finish your returns.)
- March for Science Saturday, April 22 (Earth Day), in Washington, DC and around the world.
- People’s Climate March Saturday, April 29, in Washington, DC and around the world.
These two appear to be under development; information may be subject to change:
- Immigrants’ March, Saturday, May 6, Washington, DC and May 1 in other locations (a change in dates). This appears to be under development; check the links periodically for updates.
- Equality March for Unity and Pride, Sunday, June 11, Washington, DC.
The future will be bright — if we keep shining our light on it.
Your thoughts, questions?
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