Commentary

Republicans Can’t Govern, Even with Total Control in DC

June 29, 2017

By By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO

For eight years, Republicans in Washington fought against nearly every single proposal by President Obama, from environmental and financial regulations, to his largest legislative victory to deliver health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans through the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

The GOP battle cry to get elected and re-elected last year was their singular promise to “repeal and replace” Obamacare on Day 1 of a Trump Administration. Now, over 160 days into a new Washington where Republicans hold the White House, a 48-vote majority in the House, and a two-vote majority in the Senate, there is still no clear path to delivering on their biggest promise of the election.

During the campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office, often saying he would replace it with a “beautiful” plan that would cover everyone. Soon after his election, though, he began to realize that the promise was much easier said than done.

It wasn’t until May 4, three and a half months into Trump’s presidency, that the House of Representatives passed a bill to attempt to repeal Obamacare. That bill struggled to get enough Republican support to pass that a vote on the floor was postponed once, and almost cancelled entirely. It was finally rushed through so fast that they didn’t even wait for a fiscal score from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (OMB), a review of the true impact of any proposed law.

The CBO report, which came out 20 days after the bill was passed, concluded that up to 23 million people would lose their health insurance coverage by 2026, and premiums would go up 20 percent in 2018 alone. The GOP’s repeal and replace was a bill that even Trump would later call “mean”.

Then, the show moved to the Senate where Republicans began having private meetings with only a handful of Senators to craft their version of a repeal bill. After weeks of secret meetings, excluding all Democrats, a bill was finally presented to the public, and it was just barely less mean than the House version. The CBO said the Senate bill will leave 22 million people without insurance, 1 million less than the House bill, but still, in the mean category.

Lacking enough votes to pass the bill, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell cancelled a vote planned for this week before Congress recessed for the Fourth of July weekend.

Even President Trump signaled this week that passage of the Obamacare repeal was unlikely, further eroding any support the Republicans had for the bill.

So, why can’t Republicans hammer a repeal bill through when they control both houses of Congress and have a President eager to sign it?

Well, first, crafting legislation isn’t easy for anyone, particularly not for a party that’s fractured at its core, and still coming to grips with a president of their party, but not truly of their thinking. Trump was and continues to be an outsider seemingly unaware of and disinterested in the intricacies of negotiating policies among hundreds of politicians.

Secondly, the Republicans have never had to govern by themselves, and without a foil to blame for their failures. In the 1980s, Republican Ronald Reagan had to negotiate with a Democratic House led by Tip O’Neill. In the 1990s, Democrat Bill Clinton had to work with Republicans in both houses for six of his eight years in office. Even Nixon had both houses against him.

George W. Bush was the only Republican in the past 70 years to enjoy several years of a Republican trifecta in Washington, but even he didn’t get much more than tax cuts and heavy military spending passed. For most of the past 80 years, Republicans have fought for, but, gained few large policy victories on their own.

Now, with all the levers of Washington in their control, they seem more interested in political posturing than real policy initiatives. Tax cuts seem to be their priority, as well as rolling back environmental policies to curb global warming, their other political piñata. Add in defunding Planned Parenthood, and that’s about all they seem to be able to agree on passing. On their largest target, they don’t seem to be able to agree.

An old, dyed-in-the-wool Kentucky Democrat mentor used to give me his insight into how Republicans manage to give away their hard-fought political power when they finally get it, and his saying has proven true time and time again.

In his Southern drawl, he’d always say, “Don’t fret, just when Republicans seem on the verge of attaining permanent political power, they begin the business of eating their own young.” I miss his wisdom; may he rest in peace.

It was true for Republicans in the 60s, 80s, 90s, and maybe again today. In fact, in the past 84 years, Republicans have only held the House and Senate for 22 years each, or roughly 26 percent of the time.

If Republicans don’t start including Democrats in the negotiations, and act like true elected representatives to get real policies passed, their time in power may soon come to an abrupt end. Without substantial policy victories soon, today’s GOP may again start the process of self-destruction, when their own voters turn against them for failing to deliver on their campaign promises.

They may soon hand power back to Democrats, validating that old saying once again. The way things are going, I won’t be surprised.

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