GOP repeal and replace: There they go again

Some Republicans still yearning to repeal Obamacare after two failed attempts in the Senate want to try yet again, with the prospect of only embarrassing themselves once more and advertising their ineptness.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is not the normal "body of jurisdiction" on the matter and has never held a hearing on the issue, has decided to throw a well-chewed bone to President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans, who are desperate to claim some legislative success this year.

Many other GOP legislators seemed content to bury this multi-failed turkey in Capitol Hill's backyard and move on to tax reform and other promises that Mr. Trump made as the party's 2016 nominee. Senator Johnson and a few others appear willing to reiterate their inability to achieve what previously failed more than 60 times in the House — to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In more rational times, "R and R" stood for rest and relaxation. But this band of Trump-perplexed Republicans is having difficulty living with their expiring dream of choking the former Democratic president's prime legislative baby in its crib.

In fact, to the immense frustration and dismay of the would-be executioners, Obamacare has turned out to be surprisingly popular with millions of insured Americans, especially the estimated 20 million or so who would lose it under repeal-and-replace.

The threat of losing them as voters in the next midterm elections is a sword hanging over the Grand Old Party as it already faces serious defections at the polls in 2018. The loss of its majorities in the Senate and even the House are distinct possibilities in reaction to the nightmare Trump leadership.

Notably, the harassed president has yet not demonstrated any notable engagement himself in the third re-try to repeal and replace, which now seems particularly bleak in terms of the realistic time frame imposed.

Unless the Senate votes on it by Sept. 30, the window to do so with 50 or 51 votes under "reconciliation" rules will close, and 60 votes will required to do the deed, with 48 Senate Democrats and independents ready to say no.

The Republican skepticism about the chances of success was reflected by Sen. John Thune of North Dakota, among the party's Senate leaders. He was quoted in The Washington Post as telling one of the new attempt's authors, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, he was "a grave robber" because Obamacare repeal and replace effort "was six feet under" and would require difficult revival.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed none too excited about the last-gasp attempt, which only underscored his failure in the first two efforts. President Trump showed no reluctance to place the blame on Mr. McConnell's shoulders, obliging the president to turn to Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House as allies in breaking the longtime legislative stalemate on Capitol Hill.

Their surprise deals — avoiding a government shutdown by extending the federal budget debt limit for three months and then agreeing to work together on salvaging President Barack Obama's DACA program for sheltering 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children — was an embarrassing end run around Senator McConnell.

Even a long-shot revival to repeal and replace Obamacare in the Senate would require approval in the House, which finally had passed its own, different version of health-care reform earlier this year.

Such additional agonizing over this already nightmarish episode would carry its own hazards, along with more ridicule and mocking of Trump and the Republican Congress as the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

The Congressional Budget Office would yet have to calculate how many Americans would be denied medical care under any new replacement scheme, which would shift much of the implementation and financing to the participating states.

This is one "reform" that both Mr. Trump and the Republican Party would be better abandoning in favor of other, more defendable and desired crusades. Many Democrats seem already seem enticed by Sen. Bernie Sanders' pitch for a version of "Medicare for all" on the Canadian model, as the next health-insurance battleground here.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power” (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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