Conservatives are trying to rally interest in one last attempt at repealing Obamacare this summer, as Republicans increasingly fear that having no plan, coupled with high insurance costs, will hurt them in the midterms.
The repeal attempt has little chance of success given how past efforts dramatically failed. But its advocates argue it’s the party’s one last chance to fulfill a major promise and define its identity on health care.
Asked about whether Obamacare repeal has a chance of succeeding this summer, a half dozen Republican senators responded with a mix of laughter, grimaces, and eye rolls.
Democrats say they will be campaigning hard on blaming Republicans for high insurance premiums, as well as prescription drug costs. And Republicans, after years of running on repealing Obamacare, for the first time in a long time, lack a clear response.
“I’m concerned that we’ll get blamed for the collapse of Obamacare because we’ve done just enough for them to make that argument,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “What I’m most concerned about is that we don’t have an alternative. If you’ve got an alternative you’re in the debate.”
While Republicans did repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate, the rest of the law remains in place.
“Finishing the job of repealing Obamacare remains our biggest unfinished promise,” said GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.
This has sparked a renewed interest in repeal. Former senator and repeal advocate Rick Santorum was spotted making the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday. He’s working with the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, which is actively drafting a new repeal plan. Heritage is meeting with lawmakers and the White House to build support for the repeal plan, the group confirmed to BuzzFeed News. They expect to release the plan by late May or early June.
From there it would be in the hands of Congress. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is proposing that Congress dedicate August — when members are supposed to be back home in their districts — to repeal. He laid out a plan to pass a budget bill as the vehicle because it triggers a special process that would allow the Senate to repeal Obamacare with 50 votes instead of the usually needed 60.
But even getting to that lower bar seems next to impossible. Republicans can only lose one vote, and already have three likely hard nos in Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul, plus John McCain is absent while battling cancer. Collins, Murkowski, and McCain successfully killed the party’s last attempt to repeal Obamacare in the Senate last summer.
But that does leave the question of what exactly is the GOP’s position on health care for the midterms. The answer seems to be: Blame it on the Democrats.
After President Trump canceled a key Obamacare subsidy, Congress talked about passing new legislation to stabilize the markets. It never happened.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told his colleagues he would not put any bill to a floor vote that is seen as propping up Obamacare, according to multiple Republicans. There were bipartisan talks in the Senate, but Republicans ultimately released their own stabilization plan, which Democrats opposed because it expanded abortion restrictions.
There's been no movement since. Senate Health Committee chairman Lamar Alexander said Wednesday he did not see any bipartisan path forward on a health bill.
Meanwhile, insurance premiums are steadily rising, which is a worrying sign for Republicans. But both parties will have rhetorical ammunition to blame the other side. Democrats will seize on Trump’s moves to dismantle parts of Obamacare, while Republicans are already accusing Democrats of blocking their stabilization bill in Congress.
This sets up a likely scenario where instead of 2018 being a battle of ideas over the future of the American health care system, it will be a fight between two parties over who can better blame the other for the status quo.