Schumer talks tough on Obamacare; does he have a good hand?

Yesterday, I observed that Chuck Schumer’s tough talk on the Supreme Court is backed up by a hand consisting of. . .nothing. Schumer is no Paul Newman, so for him nothing isn’t a cool hand.

Schumer is also talking tough about Obamacare. He insists that Democrats will not help Republicans replace the Affordable Care Act. He anticipates, therefore, that repeal will produce a disaster. He intends to call that disaster “Trump Care” and ride a harsh critique of it back into power, the way the Republicans did with Obamacare. “You break it, you own it” will be the mantra.

Clearly this hand is not “nothing.” Unlike with a Supreme Court nominee, Republicans seemingly need Democratic votes in Congress in order effectively to replace Obamacare.

Some replacement can be accomplished with only 50 votes, via “reconciliation.” How much replacement can be done this way is unclear to me and, I think, unclear to everyone except perhaps the Senate parliamentarian. However, no one seems to dispute that full replacement is not possible through reconciliation.

Thus, some Democratic support will be required in the Senate. Otherwise, it’s likely that serious gaps will remain in a post-repeal environment. These gaps might well produce instability, if not chaos, for which Democrats can blame Republicans. “Donald Trump, making America sick again” is a slogan Schumer is already trying out.

So Schumer has a decent hand. But is it as strong as he thinks it is? I’m not sure.

Obamacare was unpopular from the beginning. Republicans have enjoyed great success by promising to repeal and replace it.

If, now that they are in power, they repeal Obamacare as promised and propose reasonable legislation to replace it, why isn’t the ball then in Democrats court? Why, in other words, would the Democrats get a pass for hardship resulting from their unwillingness to support a reasonable replacement?

Sure, the Dems could say that, had Obamacare not been repealed, we wouldn’t be in this particular mess. But Republicans could respond that we wouldn’t be in this mess had Democrats not spitefully filibuster replacement legislation.

It’s quite possible that a plurality, if not a majority, will attach more blame to Democratic obstruction than to Republican promise-keeping, especially if Americans like most of the rest of what they see from their new president.

But even if Schumer’s hand is only so-so, he might play it well enough to win. He knows that congressional Republicans are cautious and prone to blinking when the going gets tough. Often, rather than going to the mat, they take the easy way out.

The easy way out in the coming battle over replacing Obamacare care would be to “replace” that Act with something similar but with enough differences to make Republicans feel they can save a little bit of face. The alternative — gambling their position of power on outdebating Chuck Schumer, backed up by the mainstream media, in a blame game over a mini-health insurance crisis — isn’t likely to appeal to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

Would it appeal to Donald Trump? I don’t know. He’s bound to be more courageous than congressional Republicans. However, it’s not clear to me whether he dislikes Obamacare enough to risk his popularity taking it down and not effectively replacing it.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted this to congressional Republicans: “Be careful in that the Dems own the failed Obamacare disaster” and “Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web.” Precisely what this means, I’m not sure. It seems clear, however, that when it comes to repealing and replacing Obamacare, Trump is wary of Chuck Schumer’s hand.


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