In a puzzling interview with Maggie Haberman and Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times, Donald Trump weighed-in on the legislative mechanics of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in a way that appeared to reveal that he has no idea what’s going on.
Republicans are currently debating whether they should repeal the law right away and promise people that an unspecified replacement will emerge at an unspecified future time, or else wait and try to agree on a replacement that moves in tandem with repeal.
Trump’s answer is to reject both options. He’s now saying Republicans should repeal and replace nearly simultaneously, but without taking any time to craft the replacement:
Mr. Trump, who seemed unclear about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress this week, demanded a repeal vote “probably some time next week,” and said “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
How shortly thereafter? Well, when asked, he said, “Long to me would be weeks … it won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.”
The problem here is that the Republican Party currently has no consensus on just what the replacement should be, and it’s very difficult to see them arriving at such a consensus before February 1 — unless they somehow ram through a quickly-crafted replacement that would massively restructure the health care sector with hardly any deliberation, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The GOP’s realistic options are either to delay the entire repeal process until they have a replacement in mind (which could take months) or else they can do repeal next week and leave Americans eager to find out what, if anything, the “terrific” alternative they’ve been promised turns out to amount to. Trump’s alternative idea is totally unworkable.
In my recollection of covering the Social Security privatization battle about 10 years ago, one of the things that emerged in the winter of 2004 to 2005 is many of the key Republican-side legislative players didn’t actually understand the underlying policy issues very well. In particular, they kept stumbling over a “transition costs” problem where they somehow had to come up with $2 trillion to make any version of their plan workable. This was eminently foreseeable but not, evidently, foreseen by Republicans in Congress. This caused many problems — in the end, the proposal died without so much as a single vote on a concrete proposal.
But this was very much a problem of under-staffed members of Congress. The George W. Bush White House had plenty of pro-privatization analysts on staff at various corners of the administration (Andrew Biggs continues to be a prominent and informative public voice on the issue) who, whether you agreed or disagreed with their ideas, certainly knew a lot about Social Security.
In the Trump era, we are seeing some signs of a similar information gap in some (though by no means all) segments of Congress. But it appears to extend up to the president-elect himself, who either doesn’t understand what’s happening — with Congressional procedure or the underlying policy at all — or he’s simply playing dumb for some obscure strategic reason.