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Carter: Could GOP failure lead to bipartisan compromise on healthcare?

Perhaps after the GOP's latest failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, we can now have a bipartisan conversation about what health care in this country should look like, with congressional Republicans and Democrats working together, alongside the Trump administration, to create a truly great health care program.

I know. I could barely keep a straight face as I typed it.

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After the Republican's American Health Care Act failed to go to a vote Friday, President Donald Trump was quick to put the blame on Democrats, telling Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, "We couldn't get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it."

That Democrats wouldn't vote for the American Health Care Act shouldn't be surprising — why would they vote for a plan that would leave more than 24 million Americans without health care coverage? — but to say Republicans were "a little bit shy" on votes is probably stretching the truth, not that Trump is any stranger to that. The reality is, despite controlling both chambers in Congress and the White House, Republicans couldn't get on the same page to do what many thought would be a foregone conclusion once Trump was elected.

The hardline conservative Freedom Caucus was the real reason Republican promises of repealing and replacing Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act failed. Those obstinate Freedom Caucus individuals, about 29 members of Congress, give or take, wouldn't budge because it seems some of them would be satisfied with nothing less than a complete repeal of Obamacare, with no replacement plan.

That's never going to fly at this point. The genie is out of the bottle on government-subsidized health care access and for all of Obamacare's flaws — make no mistake, it's far from perfect — anything that strips away access to affordable health care to that many voters will never get enough support.

One would assume it would be back to the drawing board for Republicans, but instead, House Speaker Paul Ryan said we'll have the ACA for "the foreseeable future," and Trump is willing to let things play out until "Obamacare explodes."

Trump seems to be betting that it won't take long for that to happen — as soon as the next year, he predicted, as premiums will continue to go up and certain people fall off because they can no longer afford it — and Democrats won't have much choice but to work with the administration and to reach across the aisle in Congress to come up with a solution. "We'll end up with a better health care plan. A great plan," Trump told Costa. "And you wouldn't need the Freedom Caucus."

But is Obamacare going to "explode"? In its take on the ACHA, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office doesn't seem to think so. There's no question it's been a bad year or so for Obamacare with some insurers raising premiums and other insurers dropping out, leading to even higher premiums. Then consumers left the marketplace because of the higher premiums, which makes the premiums go up again. If this cycle continues, Trump will be proven right. The CBO predicts, though, that it will stabilize.

Regardless, perhaps this is an opportunity for Democrats to reach out to Trump's administration and moderate Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act, even if they don't believe it is headed for a disaster. Democrats know that Obamacare needs repair. And they have maintained that they are willing to negotiate some changes with Republicans.

Trump cares more about winning and being right than he does about policy. And recall the numerous times on the campaign trail he said he was "going to take care of everybody," with a health care plan that would cost less money. I doubt it matters much to him whether he works with hardline conservatives or Democrats and moderate Republicans if he can make that happen, because he'll be able to declare a victory.

Trump has been panned plenty in the past 48 hours, rightfully so, as the self-proclaimed "Great Negotiator" who couldn't get a deal done by failing to whip the hard right. But if he claims any credit in getting Republicans and Democrats in Washington working together for a change, and making bipartisan repairs to the Affordable Care Act that takes care of more Americans and reduces the cost, he will be able to reclaim the moniker.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.



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