President Donald Trump, long at the forefront of intellectual discovery, last week came up with a major finding: Health care reform is hard. “Unbelievably complex,” in fact.
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” the president said.
Actually, we all knew.
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That’s why Republicans’ successor plan to Obamacare, “repeal and replace,” became repeal and delay. That’s why House Republicans kept their draft legislation under guard in a secret, GOP-only “reading room” in the Capitol, so copies wouldn’t leak. That’s why they decided to push the legislation through committees this week only a couple of days after introducing it – and before waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to say how much the legislation would cost taxpayers and how many people would lose health insurance.
Apparently they have to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it.
And now that Republican leaders in the House have finally revealed their plan, the magic formula turns out to be … a cheap knockoff of Obamacare: covering fewer people, charging them more and giving a tax cut to the rich.
Democrats, predictably, panned it because it’s a cheap knockoff of Obamacare, and they prefer the original over imitators. The bigger problem for GOP leaders is that conservatives also panned it because, well, it’s a cheap knockoff of Obamacare.
Outside the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, conservative legislators lined up to denounce the bill.
“A step in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, likened the “flawed bill” to “horse excrement.”
“Let’s not lower the bar on what we believe simply because a Republican is in the White House,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
“Obviously,” deduced Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., “we have some serious concerns.”
The sales effort so far has been wanting. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, defending the legislation on CNN on Tuesday, suggested that Americans, “rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
The authors of the legislation, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., didn’t do much better. They paraded their 123-page bill before the cameras Tuesday morning with a sign pasted on it: “Read the Bill.”
They came armed with a letter from Trump’s health and human services secretary, Tom Price, backing the legislation (Trump himself calls it “wonderful”), but they had no direct answers for how much the bill would cost, how many fewer would be covered and what sort of tax break the wealthy would see.
CBS’ Nancy Cordes pointed out that Republicans complained for years about Democrats ramming through Obamacare.
“So aren’t you doing the exact same thing?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” replied Walden – who then admitted he was indeed following the procedure the Democrats did when, in passing Obamacare, “They didn’t have a CBO score before it went up to the Budget Committee.”
The Republican legislation also includes many of the “gimmicks” they decried in Obamacare: delaying implementation of costly provisions for years to make the bill appear cheaper than it is. The bill, which Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., called “Obamacare 2.0,” uses the structure of Obamacare, sustains Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion at least through 2020 and keeps the “Cadillac tax” on generous health care plans.
Democrats say the GOP plan would cause at least 11 million to lose health coverage, cause premium, co-pay and deductible increases, deplete the Medicare trust fund, and amount to a huge transfer of wealth to the richest. They are getting a bit of support from a group of four relatively moderate Senate Republicans who have already demanded protections for those covered by Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Powerful conservative groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth have all denounced the GOP legislation. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called the bill “Obamacare lite,” and he and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said they would reintroduce legislation calling for an outright repeal of Obamacare.
Brady, one of the authors of Obamacare lite, warned Republicans: “We can act now or we can keep fiddling around and squander this opportunity to repeal Obamacare.”
Apparently, that argument hasn’t prevailed. As Brady and Walden finished their news conference, an email from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office arrived announcing a do-over: Brady and Walden would have another health care news conference later in the day, this time joined by Ryan.
Who knew it would be so hard?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.