Wed, Mar 29, 2017 - Page 9 News List

‘Move fast and break things’: Trump’s Obamacare failure and the backlash ahead

Republicans suffered a devastating defeat on Obamacare, but the pulling of the American Health Care Act could be a blessing in disguise for Trump

By David Smith  /  The Observer, WASHINGTON

Illustration: Mountain People

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House was crammed as usual, but there was an extra frisson of suspense. As White House press secretary Sean Spicer walked to the lectern, a conversation was unfolding just 27 paces away in the Oval Office. It would invalidate almost everything he said.

US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan told US President Donald Trump the news he did not want to hear. Weeks of cajoling and arm-twisting to win over skeptics of their healthcare reform legislation had failed.

Ryan asked the president to ditch the bill and avoid the humiliation of putting it to a vote in the House. Trump agreed.

It was a chastening defeat for a president whose election campaign was built on his reputation as a negotiator and a winner. His book, The Art of the Deal, brags: “Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

When it came to his first major legislation as president and the question “deal or no deal,” the answer was, emphatically, no deal.

In a poetic twist, the president who has espoused a right-wing agenda of economic nationalism, law and order and “America first” was undone by the right wing of his own party.

Conservatives said the bill did not go far enough to repeal and replace former US president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Today was a big win for the president. The 44th president, Barack Obama,” TV host Lawrence O’Donnell said on MSNBC. “And it was, to put it in Trump-speak, a complete disaster for the current president.”

It came hard on the heels of two legal knock-backs to his attempt to ban travelers from certain Muslim-majority counties. That policy too was imposed with a missionary zeal that masked a lack of competence and grasp of detail.

However, Trump appears to be playing the role of a chief executive intent on shaking up a business and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is said to admire a creed from the tech sector in Silicon Valley: “Move fast and break things.”

However, Washington politics are different. Add in the Russia affair — the resignation of the president’s national security adviser, groundless claims of wiretapping against Obama and an ongoing FBI investigation into Trump’s associates — and the first two months of the Trump presidency reek of chaos, crisis and confusion.

In his rambunctious election campaign, the 70-year-old novice promised to repeal and replace Obamacare “immediately.”

It was a bad choice for an opening offensive. Healthcare reform is to US presidents what the Russian winter was to Napoleon. Obama got further than most, but even then the notion of a US National Health Service remained a distant dream.

With Republicans controlling both the US Senate and House, Trump should have had the cards in his favor. In what US Democrats regarded as an act of spite, he and Ryan set a deadline to erase Obamacare on its seventh anniversary, March 23. They would supplant it with the slimmer American Health Care Act (AHCA).

However, as the negotiations gathered steam, it was clearly not going to be plain sailing.

Last month, Trump said: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.”

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