Obamacare, its Repeal, and the Importance of Coalition Building

By Matthew O'Keefe                                                                                                                       Guest Writer

This week, as we continue to move through the post-election, pre-inaugural purgatory that we call “January”, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, has re-entered the national conversation. The President, in his final address to the nation before yielding his office to his successor later this week, touted his namesake universal health care law as one of the hallmark achievements of his presidency. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans, preparing to make full use of their outright majorities in the legislative and executive branches, have begun conversations about how quickly to repeal the law and what system to put in its place.

Unsurprisingly, political observers and commentators across the nation have developed their talking points: Republicans harping on “broken promises” – a reference to the President’s (in)famous “if you like your doctor, you can keep them” gaffe – and increased healthcare premiums, while Democrats defend the law’s granting of healthcare to millions of previously uninsured individuals, claiming that Republicans want to “Make America Sick Again”. While each side of the aisle will likely continue to cling to their cherry picked statistics about the merits of the ACA, it’s important to remember how we got to this point of bitter contention and what it says about our elected officials.

Like it or not, Obamacare has been the law of the land for long enough now to substantially impact people’s lives. Families across the country who count on federal subsidies for their medical and financial safety have budgeted with Obamacare in mind, pursued treatment options compliant with their specific plans and have come to expect that health insurance is something on which they can depend. Lives depend on the medical treatment they receive. Now, many of these individuals risk losing that treatment. Congressional Republicans are far from alone in their fault on this matter: Democrats are equally to blame.

The main problem with the ACA’s repeal or continued existence is not one of substance; it’s about process. Congress has every right to enact laws, and an equal right to repeal those laws down the road. That prospect, coupled with a democratic system of ousting lawmakers in favor of their opponents on a regular basis, is designed to breed compromise. In a system of 535 lawmakers, you’ll never get everyone to agree on anything substantial, but our elected officials should constantly aim to produce legislation that gains support from members of both major parties. Otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves in our present situation: a cycle of partisan gamesmanship marked by casual passage and repeal of major laws without bipartisan support.

While Democrats were rushing Obamacare through Congress and signing it into law, Republicans were vocal about their intention to dismantle the law at the earliest opportunity. Frequent attempts at repeals were seen as futile and petty in the eyes of the Democratic leadership. They were, in fact, warning signs; these shots across the bow should have come as serious red flags to legislators seeking true, long term appeal, as it became a clear and constant signal that the ACA would last only as long as the Democratic majority (and history tells us that no party ever remains dominant for long). Instead of taking the concerns of GOP legislators into account to build a coalition reform bill – the type that each side of the aisle could show off to constituents in hopes of reelection, Democrats seized the opportunity to push forward with their own agenda, allowing their nearsightedness to keep them from building a real legacy.

Republicans, meanwhile, did not make it easy to build a compromise; employing no-holds-barred, non negotiating tactics to keep a bill from ratification while operating as a minority party is a bold if foolish strategy, and one that likely will not prove beneficial in the eyes of history. While they may now see their opportunity to dismantle the President’s healthcare law, every majority is always only two years from risking a return to the minority.

We can’t continuously play politics with people’s medical coverage. Now is not the time for Democrats to cry foul and take a hard line against negotiating, nor is it time for Republicans to abuse their might and tout their “electoral mandate” to rip the bill to shreds. Politicians will never regain public confidence while working toward their partisan agendas. Public trust comes from results – long-term, real results that make life better for everyday citizens. When congress inevitably repeals and replaces Obamacare, they should be working to build a broad coalition of Republicans and Democrats in order to establish a bill that will stand the test of time, and become both a crowning achievement of a proud majority party and a strong indication that the minority party continues to wield influence in Washington. Compromise makes us stronger. Brute force makes us shortsighted.