How can President Trump and the GOP Congress escape the political damage from their failed pledge to produce a better health-care plan than Obamacare?
If Congress can't pass the current flawed Republican plan, Trump told leading conservative groups last week, he has a Plan B. It is to keep badmouthing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a "disaster" and then blame Democrats when Obamacare collapses.
He is going to need a Plan C, because there is a big problem with Plan B.
If the ACA ever fails, it will be because of Republicans. It was Senate Republicans, led by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who drained money from "risk corridors" created to protect insurance companies from losing money. And Republicans in 19 states refused to expand Medicaid, keeping about 4 million eligible Americans away from health insurance offered by Obamacare.
It was Trump who cancelled advertising aimed at bringing more people into the program. Congressional Republicans also made a point of scaring away sports teams and celebrities ready to join in public service campaigns to tell people about the benefits of getting health insurance under the ACA.
Who can forget all the scary claims coming from Congressional Republicans and candidate Trump about skyrocketing premiums under Obamacare? They sounded the alarm without saying that most people in Obamacare had nothing to fear because of federal subsidies. They also did not mention that premiums would have been higher without Obamacare.
Despite the Republican effort, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected enrollment in Obamacare would jump from 10 million in 2017 to 13 million in the next 10 years.
Actual enrollment for Obamacare in 2017, despite the nonstop GOP chorus predicting its death, came in at 9.2 million, about 500,000 less than in 2016. "Open enrollment was a success, and it would have been even higher without the Trump administration's efforts to suppress enrollment," Leslie Dach, director of the Protect Our Care Coalition, told CNBC in February.
Standard and Poor's investment ratings service said an increasing number of insurance companies participating in the Obamacare program would make money this year. And the CBO reported last week that Obamacare would cost one-third less than originally projected.
Opinion polls also show rising public support for Obamacare. Pew Research Center and Kaiser Family Foundation both report record high levels of support for Obamacare, with Pew finding 54 percent of the public approving of the health-care program while 43 percent remain in opposition.
A Monmouth University poll released last week also found that a majority of Americans — 51 percent — say they want Congress to keep the ACA and improve it.
These polls are evidence that Republicans are so intent on damaging Obamacare that they are no longer listening to voters.
Critics on the left and right have been fiercely critical of the House Republicans' replacement plan, the American Health Care Act. And the CBO estimates on how many people it will leave uninsured are daunting.
Even among conservative hardliners, there is opposition to the House version of a new health-care plan. Tea Party pressure groups like Heritage Action and Koch brothers-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks came out swinging against the bill.
Perhaps the most important foe of the House bill is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which represents over 38 million senior citizens.
"This bill would weaken Medicare's fiscal sustainability, dramatically increase health-care costs for Americans aged 50-64, and put at risk the health care of millions of children and adults with disabilities and poor seniors who depend on the Medicaid program for long-term services and supports and other benefits," wrote AARP senior vice president Joyce A. Rogers.
Also standing in opposition to the GOP plan are the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Hospital Association (AHA), and the American College of Physicians (ACP).
According to exit polls, voters over the age of 65 backed Trump over Clinton, 52 percent to 45 percent. The blowback from those voters over the GOP failure to produce a better health-care plan could produce a nightmare for Republicans in the 2018 midterms.
President Trump, however, is pushing the bill, and Congressional GOP leadership say they are confident that it will pass. Perhaps they have been in the right-wing media bubble so long that they can no longer discern reality from their talking points when it comes to Obamacare.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."