The vote to repeal and replace Obamacare is set for a House vote this Thursday. Facing opposition within his own party, Trump is out barnstorming for support. First, he warned Americans that they will not receive any of the tax cuts he promised throughout his campaign until Obamacare is repealed and replaced. Then he warned Republicans who continue to oppose his bill that they will lose their seats next election.
There is no love lost between Trump and Obamacare
Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. He has been tweeting that it is a disaster for almost five years to the day (his first one was March 30, 2012).
His rhetoric has heated up, as have the number of roadblocks to his promise to immediately repeal it. First it was, “Obamacare is collapsing – and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.” Then it became we have to “end this nightmare.” Since then, it has been variations on “a complete and utter disaster” which “is imploding fast.”
However, the “wonderful new Healthcare Bill” that Republicans rolled out with his blessing was not the instant success he touted. In addition to the predictable Democratic opposition, Trump and the Republican House leadership, have encountered unexpected resistance from their own “Freedom Caucus” as well as across the healthcare field. The replacement bill, nicknamed everything from “Trumpcare” to “Trashcare,” is now being described as a “universally detested piece of legislation” that is unlikely to ever pass the Senate.
No tax cuts without “repeal and replace” first
When opposition pressure from within the GOP started to first flare up, Trump called out Senator Rand Paul in particular, tweeting “I feel sure that my friend @RandPaul will come along with the new and great health care program because he knows Obamacare is a disaster!” The next week, Paul fired back, telling CNN “I think that Paul Ryan’s selling him a bill of goods that he didn’t explain to the President, and the grassroots doesn’t want what Paul Ryan is selling.”
Perhaps this was why Trump chose Paul’s home state of Kentucky to punch Monday night. According to the official transcript, Trump first repeated told the audience “we are going to keep our promises — all of the promises that we made. We are going to massively reduce your taxes.” But then later, he handed them the ultimatum that he, “cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare.” He continued:
And remember this — so true — I happen to like a lot Senator Rand Paul. I do. (Applause.) I do, I like him. He’s good. He’s a good guy. And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in some form so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do until this happens. So we’ve got to get this done before we can do the other. In other words, we have to know what this is before we can do the big tax cuts. We’ve got to get it done for a lot of reasons, but that’s one of them.
The jury is out on why exactly Trump will put tax cuts on hold
Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) told Bloomberg News that one reason is symbolic. Whoever successfully blocked this repeal “would feel like they’re empowered to tear the next big project down.” The repeal of Obamacare is also supposed to produce over $800 billion in tax cuts of its own over the next ten years (mostly for the wealthiest Americans). The logic is that those lowered taxes would permit later tax cuts to keep overall federal revenue neutral, which would permit the cuts to go through the Senate without a 60-vote supermajority.
Note however that there are no actual restrictions prohibiting Trump from working on, or even passing, his pledged tax cuts. This choice is one in an elaborate set of political chess moves.
Another reason to could, therefore, be as a scare tactic; to use the public’s desire for tax cuts as leverage to pressure their lawmakers into voting for a bill they oppose.
The next evening, Trump met privately with Republican lawmakers to deliver a more overt message: those who opposed the repeal would lose their seats in the next election.
The New York Times reported
“I’m going to come after you,” Mr. Trump told Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, a prime holdout and the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, a hotbed of concern about the legislation, according to several people in the room who described his comments on condition of anonymity because the session was private.
Meadows remained undeterred following the threat, saying that he and 25 colleagues were still going to vote “No” on the bill. It is unclear whether Trump has the political capital to rally the public against these lawmakers in the 2018 midterms, considering his approval ratings are at 37%, the lowest of any President in recent history at this stage in their tenure.
Bully-in-Chief or smart negotiator?
Trump has a well-established history of pushing anyone and everyone around, and it seems to have worked for him in the business world, which is what attracted many of his supporters in the first place. However, both choices seem like going “all in” on an easily called bluff.
If Americans heard his comments about delaying tax cuts as a threat, they might end up feeling extorted rather than energized to rally behind him. There is only so long that his supporters will cheer on everything he does because he says it is tremendous and wonderful.
We are only two months into the new administration, and Trump is railroading a bad bill through Congress even faster than Republicans have claimed Democrats did it with Obamacare. Considering that they have been complaining about this for years, it seems politically disastrous for Republicans to commit the same mistake. As such, the choice to threaten lawmakers will probably just strengthen their resolve, and the support of their voting base, even if Trump comes after them.
In short, these two statements seem amateur and short-sighted. Then again, look who made them.
Featured image from Flickr