It is bizarre watching House Republicans persuade themselves that the problem they face on health care is cutting a deal between the Freedom Caucus and the Tuesday Group rather than crafting legislation that people actually like, and that will actually make some part of the health care system noticeably better. But the GOP’s refusal to take public opinion even mildly into account has put them in a disastrous position.
I’m not sure Republicans realize how deep a hole they’re in on this issue. But here’s a way to make it clear. Obamacare is now significantly more popular than Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, the Republican Party, or the American Health Care Act:
So Republicans’ strategy, right now, is to replace a law that’s more popular than they are with a bill that was polling at 17 percent before it went down in flames. And their approach to doing that isn’t a new campaign where they persuade the public that the AHCA is a good idea, nor is it a new proposal that fixes the problems that made the old bill so unpopular.
Instead, it’s a backroom deal that changes the AHCA so it’s easier for insurance companies to charge sick people more for coverage. Is that really what Republicans think the public disliked about the original bill? That it made it too hard for insurers to turn away former cancer patients?
I genuinely don’t understand what Republicans believe their endgame is here. When Democrats passed Obamacare, the law was mildly unpopular (though nothing close to the AHCA’s catastrophic numbers), but they believed, firmly, that it would grow more popular as it began delivering insurance to millions of people.
So far, the main thing the new Republican majority has achieved on health care is to prove the Democrats right — they have made Obamacare more popular than it’s been at any other point in its existence. And they’ve achieved that by persuading people disappointed in Obamacare that it’s better than what Republicans want to put in its place.
But do Republicans really believe the AHCA will become more popular when it begins taking insurance away from millions of people? I’ve asked this question of a number of conservatives involved in this effort, and none has answered in the affirmative. As far as I can tell, the only problem Republicans are working to solve right now is getting the House to pass something, anything. But that’s not the only problem, or even the main problem, they have.
The real problem Republicans face is how to write a bill that people actually like. One way to do that would be to write a bill that addresses their longstanding public criticisms of Obamacare: that it covers too few people, and that its insurance costs too much and has overly high deductibles and copays.
But Republicans want a bill that does the opposite — they want to cover fewer people with insurance that has higher copays and deductibles — and they have neither tried to persuade the public that their vision is correct nor come up with a way to resolve the tension. Instead, they’re spending their time endlessly tweaking the AHCA as a way to feel like they’re making progress on health care even while they ignore the chasm that has opened between them and the country.