by Matthew Casper
To the surprise of no one, perhaps save the most ardent boosters of President Donald J. Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the Republican plan to massively cut taxes for the upper 2%, repeal and (rhetorically) replace Obamacare failed Friday, being pulled from the floor of the House just moments before the vote was to be taken. Also to the surprise of no one, Republicans on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue immediately blamed their failure on Democrats, simultaneously blaming them for the process in which they were invited to take no part and for the failures of the Affordable Care Act caused in part by Republicans themselves. Democrats have been quick to claim victory, but they must do much more than stand before a podium if they want to capitalize at all on this catastrophic misstep of the Trump administration.
Republicans have, as has been documented here in many articles, been paragons of hypocrisy and mendacity when it comes to the truths of the state and contents of Obamacare, their own bills, and their own actions. Democrats now have a short window in which they must educate the American populace and take back the political advantage as well. Following is a series of steps that Democrats should take before the weekend ends in order to gain back the ground ceded in this Republican loss.
Step One: Educate the Public About Trumpcare’s Failure
Democrats are historically awful at messaging when it comes to complicated issues like healthcare. Fortunately, they haven't resorted to the efforts of Pied Piper-types like Frank Luntz to find pretty packaging for disastrous policies, but on the flip side, they also haven't been able to counter pithy bumper sticker slogans. By Sunday, all Americans should be aware of a basic set of facts that Democrats repeat in volume. Any time one of these points can be worked into a media hit, Democrats should spread the following points.
- Democrats were excluded completely from this process, and are waiting and anxious to contribute to both improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable healthcare.
- We dodged a disaster with the Republican plan’s failure.
- It failed partially because it didn't do enough to take health benefits and protections away from the American people.
- President Trump promised over and over to present his completed secret plan that would cover more people at a fraction of the cost, cover “everybody,” not be a “typical Republican” on healthcare, and many other pie in the sky vows that proved to be untrue. In fact, he had no plan except to cede authority to the most extreme voices in his party, a plan that Paul Ryan admitted he'd dreamt about since college: a plan to gut Medicaid coverage “entitlements.”
- You know that they knew how unpopular their plan would be with the public because Republicans kept their plan secret until the end, and rushed it to a vote before their changes could even be scored. Unlike the Democrats’ process building the ACA, which lasted the better part of a year and was called “rushed” by Republicans, this truly was a rushed and secretive plan.
- The issues with Obamacare were largely caused by Republican actions, and Democrats have stood ready to fix these issues while Republicans would rather have a political issue, whether or not Americans in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin are hurt.
Step Two: Call Republicans’ Bluff and Offer a Plan
While Republicans have professed a desire to fix access issues, lower costs, care for “the least of these,” etc., they have repeatedly denied Democrats a chance to fix what all knew needed adjustment in Obamacare. Democrats must immediately and vociferously use the media to call Republicans’ bluff and offer a chance to fix these things.
- Identify the major issues people have with healthcare in this country: deductible amounts; premium costs; access to insurance options; prescription drug costs; and complexity of coverage.
- Repeat how these problems have been partially caused by Republican efforts to hurt Obamacare and how easily they can be rectified by codifying fixes.
- Explain how insurance works, explaining that no one is purchasing all of the issues covered in a policy, but that by spreading risk and probabilities, all of our costs are lowered by having wide coverage with a wide pool of insured people.
- Invite all Republicans who want to improve access to quality and affordable healthcare to join Democrats as they develop a plan to protect coverage and benefits, to ensure that people in all parts of the country have access to a wide network of doctors and hospitals, and to lower costs to both the government and citizens while at the same time ensuring that no one loses coverage.
Spoiler alert: Republicans will never and can never take Democrats up on this without giving up their quest to drown the government in a bathtub and turn functions over to profit-makers.
The ultimate purpose, then, must be to repeat these values that Americans across political bounds have consistently said that they agree with, and to beat the media at their “bipartisanship” game. The truth is that these values can only be solved by a handful of solutions, which include a wishlist of good government and healthcare reform types. Once these values become the acceptable baseline, Democrats can roll out plans for an optional Medicare/Medicare Advantage buy-in (or other public option like access to the federal employee insurance system); restoration to the pieces of the ACA broken by the GOP, the courts, and states; federal pharmaceutical price negotiations; and other innovations that allow more rural areas to access care in new ways. Only when Republicans finally push away these fixes will Democrats truly be able to regain the electoral advantage that the dishonest hysteria surrounding a Democratic plan shifted to Republicans. Remember, that in all of their dishonesty, the media to this day accepts the GOP talking point that they were “frozen out” of the development of Obamacare, simply because they kept insisting that this was the case. Democrats must immediately and actively advance in order to permanently change the narrative -- and to have a chance to improve the lives of potentially hundreds of millions of Americans in the process.
Or, Democrats can alternatively stand in front of podiums and just say why this is good, and let it become just another in a series of partisan tugs-of-war. Too many lives are on the line to allow this to happen.