With a Republican President, majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the GOP was off to the races in its mission to roll back the policies of Barack Obama.
Friday afternoon, they fell at the first hurdle.
In a stunning failure, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pulled the GOP’s long-awaited replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The legislative calamity ended when it became apparent that the White House and Congressional leaders were unable to secure enough Republican votes to pass the measure.
Democrats and supporters of the ACA breathed a sigh of relief as the GOP pulled the bill. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker was among the Republicans also pleased at the decision not to move forward with the new administration’s American Health Care Act.
“I am pleased today’s vote has been held,” Baker said in a statement. “This bill would drastically affect the Commonwealth’s ability to ensure essential care for thousands of people.”
Governor Baker expressed concerns over the bill earlier this week, saying it would end up costing the state $1.5 billion due to cuts in Medicare funding. Baker, along with other Republican Governors, met with President Trump before the unveiling of the House bill.
“This version does not reflect the needs of states and does not contain many critical aspects of health care reform that our administration has communicated to the federal government,” Baker said after House Republicans pulled the bill.
Massachusetts lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the failed bill. Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch explained his reasoning to WBZ-TV on Friday, citing the massive cuts to federal funding as well as the concerns from his Veteran constituents.
“It also doesn’t allow veterans to use the refundable tax credits in this bill if they use the VA health care system,” Lynch said in the interview. “I have all my veterans against it.”
Lynch went on to also say that the bill would impact the fight against the state’s opioid epidemic. Lynch said that it “depletes a lot of the opioid money,” at a time when communities across the commonwealth are in crisis. Trump himself, cited the opioid epidemic several times throughout his campaign, as a major problem that needed to be addressed.
Lynch equated the Republican opposition to the ACA, and the campaign promise to “repeal and replace” as “just bluster.” Despite having the largest Republican majority since 1928, Republicans failed to pass legislation on their signature issue.
Many are attributing the bill’s collapse to the grassroots effort seen at town halls, and those lighting up phone lines at state houses across the country. Lynch said that Congress “heard loud and clear from the families we represent that Trumpcare would put their access to health care at risk.”
US Representative from Massachusetts, Joe Kennedy II (D), assumed a spot on the front lines of the opposition to the GOP bill. Kennedy referred to the bill as an “act of malice,” and celebrated the bills implosion. He described the sequence of events Friday as “a fierce reminder of the remarkable power we have to hold our government accountable.”
MA Senator Elizabeth Warren, though pleased with the results, was reluctant to do too much celebrating.
“I’m not doing a touchdown dance today,” Warren said in a tweet. “Not when the GOP is still hell-bent on rigging the system for the rich & powerful.”
Donald Trump has said that they will take another shot at health care, but will focus for now on tax reform. Vice President Mike Pence, was out in West Virginia attempting to downplay the failed legislation and reaffirm the administration’s commitment on the issue.
“Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats, actually said yesterday was a victory for the American people,” Pence told the crowd. “That victory won’t last very long. We will end the Obamacare nightmare and give the American people the health care they deserve.”
While the administration tries to project strength, and move on from their first major defeat, some on the left are looking to seize the moment. Some, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, are renewing calls for a single-payer health care system.
“It wasn’t just we defeated them,” Sanders said at Vermont town hall, Saturday. “It was how we defeated them.” Sanders was citing rallies and town halls packed with people “fighting back.” He told the crowd he would be introducing a “Medicare for all” bill, soon. Michigan Rep. John Conyers introduced a version of such a bill in the House this January, H.R. 676. The bill has slowly been accumulating co-sponsors throughout the month as the GOP prepared its bill.
States like California and Massachusetts, looking to lead the nation, are weighing the prospects of statewide single-payer health care systems. MA state Senator Jaimie Eldridge is the lead sponsor of a bill which operates on the principle that health care is a right, and should be guaranteed for all.
“There’s an added urgency and that’s why there’s a lot more interest in the bill,” said Eldridge. “People are looking at what the Republican Congress and President Trump are doing to the Affordable Care Act and saying: if this is going to happen at the federal level, what can we do on the state level to both guarantee health care access and lower cost?'”
Opponents see such a move as too drastic and complicated, and would not have the desired effects. Eric Linzer, the executive vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, says such a measure would “shortchange” consumers. He argues it would limit choice, diminish quality, and not bring down the cost of premiums.
The Baker administration is also exploring options for the future of health care in the state. The Associated Press reports that the Baker administration is looking to eliminate the $2,000 per employee penalty for businesses who do not offer health insurance. The government would increase other insurance related employer fees to make up the revenue. These moves, plus a freeze on unemployment insurance rates, would help balance rising Medicare costs, says the Governor.
Though the plan would earn support from various business, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce would be opposed to such a measure.
So, for the moment, Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation remain intact. After seven years of campaign rhetoric, and futile House votes to repeal the ACA, the Republicans failed at their first actual attempt to undo what has become known as Obamacare.
Though they vow to go after it again, it’s hard to imagine the GOP having much stomach to get back in the ring on that issue, after such a devastating loss.