There’s quite a lot going on at the moment. The President has two genuine international crises on his hands. But I wanted to note the latest developments on health care and so-called ‘tax reform’ because they are striking both for the President’s on-going failure to pass any legislation through Congress but also because of his seeming inability to grasp the new politics of health care he has in many ways created.
Having set aside health care to get to the easy win of tax reform, the White House has now seemingly set aside the not-so-easy tax reform to go back to health care. Now the President is threatening that he’ll withhold something called CSR payments to sabotage the Obamacare exchanges and in so doing force Democrats to the bargaining table.
These aren’t the subsidies that go directly to purchasers of insurance. They’re something called cost sharing reduction payments that support insurers directly. House Republicans had sued to block these payments under Obama but now appear to have decided they’re a good idea as long as they’re not going to be able to repeal Obamacare any time soon. “I don’t want people to get hurt,” said President Trump. “What I think should happen—and will happen—is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
Setting aside the moral calculus (where there’s little reason to have high expectations), what’s striking is the political calculus, or rather Trump’s inability to grasp the current political calculus. The upshot of the repeal debacle was that Republicans realized that they would take a big political hit if people lost what they’d gained under Obamacare. Everybody focused on the so-called “Freedom Caucus”. The truth is that it was really GOP moderates who killed repeal – certainly when you figure in both the House and the Senate. In many cases, these weren’t really moderates. They were folks like Sen. Tom Cotton, pretty diehard conservatives, who were nonetheless opposing the repeal bill from the left.
In any case, Republicans now get that if people get hurt on their watch, it’s on them. The idea that the hurt may come from within the evolution of the Obamacare program and thus the blame fall on a Democratic President and Democratic Congress, neither of which are in office any more, only works on a very convoluted logic. In any case, we don’t have the rely on logic. There’s polling on this. And those polls show overwhelmingly that Republicans get blamed.
What all of this amounts to is that Trump is threatening to torch more House Republicans in newly marginal seats. And he believes that inflicting electoral damage on Republicans will coerce Democrats into negotiating the repeal of their law. That really makes very little sense.
Of course, the damage Trump threatens to inflict on innocent Americans is real. But Democrats, already seeing the President weakened, must realize that holding tough and not breaking ranks is the best way to protect ordinary people from the President’s cruelty and wrath.
There’s a simple truth here. The President is not only flailing. He is unable to grasp the political reality he faces – indeed, the one he in many ways created – and is thus making nonsensical threats. He is essence putting a gun to House Republicans heads and telling Democrats, don’t make me do it. His threats are risible and thus counterproductive. Things will grow more chaotic and disordered than they already are.