President Barack Obama on Thursday called for Republicans next year to pass legislation to repair Obamacare. The GOP response? No.
Democrats have long held out hope that with a new president, the political winds would shift, creating an opening to pass badly needed legislative repairs.
But Republicans have been bashing Obamacare for more than six years and there is no sign that they’re going to break that habit — let alone vote for legislative repairs. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that the law “can’t be fixed.”
Obamacare is the reason “we’ve seen record premium hikes,” Ryan said in a statement. “That’s why millions of people—including millennials—have lost their plans, or been forced to buy plans they don’t like. That’s why we’ve seen waste, fraud, and abuse. And at this point, one thing is clear: This law can’t be fixed.”
All of which puts a President Hillary Clinton in a tough spot. She would have to decide whether to invest significant political capital into making a substantial legislative deal with Republicans to save her predecessor’s health care law. And that would likely come at the expense of a deal on immigration or infrastructure — big priorities for her first 100 days. Or, Clinton could decide to focus her administration’s efforts on shoring up the law through the regulatory process.
Republicans are almost gleeful when talking about all of Obamacare’s problems: Many insurers have left the exchanges, premiums in some parts of the country are going up dramatically, and most of the co-ops have failed. Today, Obama and Democrats own the failures in the law, and Republicans have no incentive to share that.
“Obamacare is collapsing,” said Sen John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “Insurance companies are abandoning the program, leaving stranded families to face higher premiums and fewer choices.”
Any legislative repairs to Obamacare will require at least some Republican support, especially if the GOP retains control of the House next year. But even if Democrats take control of both chambers of Congress, they will need at least a few Republican supporters to break ranks to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
“Until and less the president and his party recognize that the real fundamental problems of the law are inherent in the law, and those are the things that need to change, it’s going to be tough,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Obama on Thursday called for additional subsidies to help consumers pay for their premiums and a public option fallback. He also called on governors to expand Medicaid under the law.
“No president can do it alone. We will need Republicans in Congress and in state governments to act responsibility and put politics aside,” Obama said at a Florida event ahead of the fourth enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act.
“Maybe now that I’m leaving office, maybe Republicans can stop with the 60-something repeal votes they’ve taken, and stop pretending that they have a serious alternative, and stop pretending that all the terrible things they said would happen have actually happened, when they have not, and just work with the next president to smooth out the kinks,” the president said.
But Republican Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), one of the House’s top health care policy leaders, held out only the smallest possibility that a new occupant of the White House might make a difference. He said he was often rebuffed when he tried to bring problems to the Obama administration’s attention.
“The No. 1 obstacle to any type of legislative repair has been the White House itself,” Burgess said. “Any time you try to talk to them on fixing things, you basically get pushed away. Would a Clinton administration be any more likely to listen to any ideas or reason? I don’t have a lot of hope that is the case.”
The political problem for Republicans, though, is that the law has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured — from 16 percent in 2010 to 9.1 percent last year. Real Americans are getting health insurance for the first time because of Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act has done what it was designed to do,” Obama said Thursday.
Republicans also don’t have a legislative alternative to address how to cover those people — although Ryan has released an outline of a plan that many in the GOP have praised.
A handful of Republicans have indicated that they want to see legislation next year to make health care more affordable — a potential opening for a deal. But so far, no one has indicated they want to build on the ACA in a way that Democrats would support.
“At a time when Obamacare is raising health costs dramatically for families, chasing competition out of the health industry, and collapsing in on itself, Democrats have a recycled idea to fix the problems that even they grudgingly admit are plaguing families,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Their answer? More Obamacare and more government.”
The GOP stance is unlikely to change as long as Republicans are convinced that opposing the health law is good politics. They say they warned in 2010 that Obamacare would be a disaster and they have multiple broken promises and failures to prove they were right.
Any Republican lawmaker who votes to save the ACA would also fear a conservative primary challenge. That’s because polls have tilted against Obamacare since its passage.
More than three-quarters of Republican have unfavorable views of the law, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll taken last month. The pollsters asked that question almost every month since the law passed in 2010 and for GOP respondents, it has never dropped below 65 percent. Overall, 47 percent of people have unfavorable views of the law and 44 percent have favorable views.
For six years, Democrats have been predicting that the politics of Obamacare would change. When the law passed in 2010, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised the political opposition would soon diminish. Instead, dozens of moderate Democrats who backed the law lost their elections that year.
Democrats hoped the 2012 Supreme Court case, and then the 2012 election, would convince the GOP to accept the law. But after Mitt Romney lost the election, former House Speaker John Boehner — certainly no fan of Obamacare — got booed by his party for merely stating that the ACA was the “law of the land.”