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Paul Ryan: “Obamacare is the law of the land”

An admission that Ryan probably wasn’t expecting just three months into a full Republican government.

It was an admission of defeat that House Speaker Paul Ryan probably didn’t expect to make just three months into a fully Republican government: “Obamacare is the law of the land. … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, Republicans have been working to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation. The House in particular tried to repeal or otherwise cripple the law — to no avail — literally dozens of times.

Then Republicans captured the White House, on top of already controlling Congress. It was widely believed that this was finally their chance to repeal the health care law they despised so much.

Yet when the time came to pull the trigger, they couldn’t do it. Not even because of Democratic opposition, but because different factions in the Republican Party just weren’t satisfied with the bill that House leadership put forward. More conservative members felt the repeal-and-replace bill didn’t do enough to dismantle Obamacare, while the more moderate members worried that the bill would rip away health insurance from too many Americans. This fracture within the party proved too much, and the American Health Care Act (AHCA) never obtained enough votes to even warrant a vote.

Still, Ryan argued that for Obamacare, “the worst is yet to come” — an allusion to the claim that Obamacare’s marketplaces are collapsing, so the law will fall apart on its own in due time. The Congressional Budget Office, however, found that this isn’t the case: “In CBO and JCT’s assessment, however, the nongroup market would probably be stable in most areas under either current law or the [AHCA].” If that holds up, Obama’s health care law really will stick around.

Democrats were counting on something like this happening. They believed that once Americans gained health insurance, they would come to support the law, fearing that a repeal could take their health plans and those of millions of other people. This was the basis for then–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s now-infamous comment “We have to pass the bill, so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.” Essentially, once the law is less attached to modern political battles, people will come to support the gains in coverage it provides.

This is generally true for social programs. As Paul Pierson, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, told Dylan Matthews, “The basic argument is that with these social programs — I was starting by thinking about things like Social Security but I think it applies with variation across programs — it’s a lot harder to get the toothpaste back in the tube once it’s out. People who are receiving benefits, they’re going to react pretty strongly to that being taken away from them. A taxpayer is paying for a lot of stuff and cares a little bit about each thing, but the person who’s receiving the benefits is going to care enormously about that.”

Republicans learned that today. And the result is, as Ryan acknowledged, Obamacare remains the law of the land.

Understanding is critical

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