Sometimes, watching the farce that passes for policy-making in Washington, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Luckily, this isn’t one of those times. Mirth is clearly the order of the day.
After all, President Donald Trump himself told Senate Republicans on Monday that they would look like “dopes” if they couldn’t repeal Obamacare. And then, a mere day after the president’s warning, the latest effort went toes-up because Senate Republicans were unable to muster even 50 votes in a Senate controlled by . . . Republicans.
Oh, those master deal makers.
With “repeal and replace” now dead, Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell pushed a stop-gap scheme: Repeal now, with the implementation date delayed for two years, and work out a replacement in the interim. Or, to put it another way: America, your TrumperyCare is in the mail! But once again, their own GOP troops blanched.
Here’s the ironic part of this whole debacle: Given the way catch phrases drive GOP policy-making, this whole charge of the lightweight brigade might well have been avoided if someone hadn’t blundered on the original slogan.
To see why, consider how we got where we are today. Twelve years ago, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation hired the Urban Institute, a center-left think tank, to figure out the best way to bring universal health coverage to Massachusetts. To the surprise of many, the think tank spoke highly of an idea popularized by the conservative Heritage Foundation: a requirement that individuals carry health insurance.
Republican Mitt Romney then seized upon the individual mandate, which had been the core of a previous national GOP proposal, and brought the left-leaning legislature around. And voila: Romneycare was born. Although some conservatives and libertarians objected, prominent Republican thought leaders had kind words for Romney’s policy experiment.
Then something unexpected happened. Barack Obama was elected president — and adopted Romneycare as his health care model. Suddenly the GOP had Romneycare nationally, but associated with a president of the opposite party.
This proved a rum thing indeed, as Bertie Wooster might put it. GOP minds changed. In fairly short order, something many Republicans had been open to under the conservative guise of individual responsibility became socialism. Or fascism. Or — even worse — Obama-ism.
And so, Republicans began promising to repeal and replace the law. It became a unifying point for opponents of the Democratic incumbent. And, for Romney’s 2012 GOP primary rivals, a cudgel with which to whack the front-runner.
But when it came to putting together a health plan of their own, the GOP found themselves in this bind: They were left trying to develop a conservative alternative not to a liberal plan, but rather to a right-leaning policy that had become politically unpalatable to Republicans.
On Tuesday, faced with those failures, Trump retreated to the blame-avoidance bunker, there to wait and hope the ACA will collapse, thus vindicating his repeal efforts. Ah, that high-minded presidential leadership!
But given this comical conundrum, why not a farcical solution? The GOP doesn’t need a new health care plan. They just need to rebrand Obamacare.
How? Well, let’s see. They could coin a new slogan, something nice and religious-y, like, say, “Redeem and Rechristen.” They could then take the ACA, change both type size and font, declare they have altered every single word, and rename it the Realistic, Essential, Fiscally Responsible Everyday Salubrious Health — or Refresh — Act. And since, as Trump has discovered, health care is complicated, they could even invite Democratic suggestions about improving the new old law.
They’d never fool the Trumpkin base, you say? Oh come on. Thirty-five percent of Americans don’t even realize that the ACA and Obamacare are the same thing. How in the world would they ever figure out that the ACA, Obamacare, and the Refresh Act are all one and the same?
But even if they did tumble to that reality, the GOP would be in a much safer place than they are now. After all, voters vastly prefer the ACA to any of the Republican alternatives.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.