The withdrawal of the Obamacare repeal bill from the House of Representatives has highlighted divisions within the Republican Party. It is clear that whilst all Republicans claim to oppose Obamacare, they are far from united on an alternative, and as of the time of writing it is far from certain they will ever agree on one.
I wholly lack the knowledge to say whether the alternative to Obamacare proposed by the Trump administration was better or worse than the current system it was intended to replace. Given the hurry with which it was cobbled together I suspect it was worse.
I would also say that it is baffling to me, as I suspect it is to most Europeans, that the US seems incapable of coming up with a coherent and cost-effective health care system when this is something which has been done successfully in all the other developed countries.
However if the story of US health care reform is one of a seemingly never-ending disaster, I doubt the decision to pull the bill from the House of Representatives before the vote will do the President much political or electoral harm.
The Republican leadership in the Congress, far from blaming the President for the failure, is blaming the party’s own divisions, and is acknowledging that the President did everything humanly possible to get the bill passed.
What that means is that the President did what his predecessor Barack Obama was increasingly failing to do as his Presidency progressed, which is talk to the leaders of his party in the Congress and work in order to get legislation passed.
The result is that the President has gained goodwill where he needs it most, which is with the leadership of his party in Congress.
Importantly the President did not make the mistake of insisting on a vote which he would have lost, which would not only have humiliated him but which would have made him look stubborn and would have caused the leaders of his party in Congress to doubt his judgement. Instead he listened to their advice, including that of Speaker Paul Ryan, and pulled the bill.
There is nothing new or surprising about this. The difficulties US Presidents have in getting their legislation passed by Congress have been an ongoing story ever since I have started following US politics in the 1970s. The system seems almost designed to create gridlock, though contrary to what is sometimes said I am sure that was not the intention of the Founding Fathers.
Over time a successful President becomes more effective at this sort of thing always provided he listens to advice of his party’s Congressional leaders and works closely with them, and forges good personal relations with key figures in Congress. At this early stage in his administration, it is completely unsurprising the President has not yet achieved this.
Above all it is important for a President not to become bogged down in trench war in Congress, which only hardens opposition and loses friends. By pulling the bill and by kicking it into the long grass the President is avoiding this mistake.
Indeed the only thing the President has (politically speaking) in my opinion done wrong during this episode is present such a complex repeal bill to Congress so early in his administration. He was apparently trapped into doing this by an election pledge and by the wishes of some in his party.
For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the President has had a narrow escape. If he had won the vote on Friday the legislative battle over the bill would have just begun. The President would have found himself dragged into a complex and time consuming battle to pilot the bill through Congress, with every prospect that eventually he would have lost. On this issue that was unwise to say the least, and the President is lucky it didn’t come to that
As for Obamacare, this unloved and unwieldy system seems destined to be around for some time longer. Given the difficulty of replacing it, it may be around for a long time.