By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – Wile E. Coyote himself could not have done a better job.
Republicans in Congress have failed, yet again, to ensnare the legislative Road Runner known as the Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare.”
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
In fact, they didn’t just fail. They ran to the spot where former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment was supposed to meet its doom and then felt the crushing weight of the Acme anvil fall on their skulls instead.
Yup, like old Wile E. Coyote, the GOP stalwarts ran into a trap of their own making.
That’s why, like those old cartoons, this outcome was inevitable.
Healthcare, from the beginning, was a disaster of the Republicans’ own devising. There was no way they could avoid it.
The problem, in part, for the GOP is that the party never could be honest about what ACA was and how it started.
Contrary to the dense and misleading mythology conservatives conjured up about Obamacare, the plan’s intellectual origins weren’t with this country’s first African-American president or with the left in general.
No, the concept came from a right-wing think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in answer to a charge from Newt Gingrich. In his fire-and-fury days as first a member and then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Georgia Republican fought with bared fangs against Bill and Hillary Clinton’s attempt to reform healthcare in the 1990s.
Gingrich’s motivations were an odd amalgam of ideological zeal and political calculation. He said at the time, famously, that Democrats couldn’t be allowed to solve America’s healthcare problems, because, if they did, they’d run the country for 50 years.
Gingrich knocked back the Clintons’ attempt, but knew the issue would return. That’s why he called for conservative policy wonks to come up with a market-based approach to meeting the healthcare challenge. The Heritage Foundation answered the call.
A Republican governor in Massachusetts named Mitt Romney first implemented the approach, which met with initial success.
When Obama came to power, he saw extending coverage and containing exploding costs as a priority. Rather than come up with his own plan, he sought to adapt one conservatives already had advanced.
His thinking was that Republicans couldn’t possibly oppose one of their own ideas.
Obama was wrong about that, as we now know.
The GOP opposition to ACA was fierce and unyielding. The Republican denial of any responsibility for “Obamacare” – previously touted by the GOP as a success as “Romneycare” in Massachusetts – was complete.
In fact, when Romney claimed the Republican nomination for president in 2012, he had to revise later editions of his autobiography to excise references to the success his healthcare plan had achieved during his governorship.
This revision of history proved successful in the short run. Republicans could use healthcare to whip up hostility to Democrats in general and Obama in particular during the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014. That hostility also helped build the coalition that allowed Donald Trump to squeeze into the White House last year.
But the GOP’s very success ensured the party’s ultimate failure on the issue. Because they’d spent the better part of a decade encouraging their base to loathe what initially had been their solution to the problem, Republicans had nowhere to go and no alternative to offer when they came to power.
Worse, because they’d spent so much time stoking hostilities to the idea of any kind of reform of healthcare that involved additional cost or curtailment of service, they’d left not just their voters but the entire country with unrealistic expectations of what could be done.
It was an elaborate trap, one Wile E. Coyote would have loved, right up to the moment the anvil came crashing down on him.
That’s the way it was with Republicans.
They built their trap with energy and zealous care, and they loved it.
Right up to the moment the anvil fell.
In the cartoons, Wile E. Coyote never learns from his mistakes.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans in Congress prove to be any smarter than a cartoon character.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.