7 Years Should Have Been 8

Nothing highlights how haphazard, ill-conceived, and doomed the Obamacare repeal is quite like scheduling the repeal on the 7th anniversary of its passage.

I’m not knocking the symbolism, per se. Trashing Nancy Pelosi’s legacy on the Anniversary sends a powerful message about what the GOP is doing here. Make no mistake, I am opposed to that message. But I appreciate some good political theater, even from across the aisle. Taking advantage of the anniversary makes sense. My objection is to the sloppiness of this gambit.

It took the Democrats 14 months after Obama took office to craft the legislation and build a coalition around it. The drama of the House vote remains the anecdote I tell to show how formidable she is. After literal years of negotiations, the day of the vote she sat in the Speaker’s chair holding the gavel. As each moderate Democrat walked in, she surveyed them. The threat was both plain and opaque. Figuratively, she was going to beat them to death with that gavel; details of what they stood to lose if they scuttled the most ambitious bill in a generation never emerged. Whatever it was, it was enough. Pelosi watched her bill make it to the President’s desk. In a cruel irony, the bill is now informally named for him, but she was its architect, shepherd, and greatest proponent. If you hate Pelosi or her achievement, it is because she was one of the best Speakers we have ever had.

Paul Ryan looks like an amateur next to her.

Two months is not enough time to craft any kind of healthcare reform. The first embarrassment is that they have only been working on this for a few weeks. Oh, sure, they have been pretending to be repealing Obamacare for 7 years. But the fact of the matter is that those bills lacked substance. And why should they have been more than symbolic shells? Obama was going to veto them, if the Senate even passed them along. Never in those 7 years did the House prepare for the possibility that they might have more than a symbolic shot at the prize.

When Paul Ryan lead the House through divided government, he was hailed as a principled Wunderkind, a visionary, the future of the party. McConnell, after all, is less ideological and much more about the strategy of the game. McConnell is right wing, of course, but that’s not why he is Majority Leader of the Senate. McConnell knows when to make a deal, when to play a parliamentary trick, and when to let the Majority Leader light his caucus on fire. McConnell plays in the same league as Pelosi. Set next to Pelosi and McConnell it is worth asking: Is the hype overblown?

Ryan, it turns out, was a glorified babysitter, good at making his petulant caucus feel like they were taking turns taking shots at Obama. That’s right, Representative Meadows, you are a big boy! Now, let the Moderates have a turn proposing a reform. Here is a cookie. What principles, exactly does that embody? What strategy should we glean from that? Which future does that portend?

Ryan’s sole stroke of genius has been to hand this toxic mess off to Trump. By letting Trump handle the Freedom Caucus (and bad mouth him in the press!), by letting Trump put his name on Ryan’s signature legislation, Ryan is absolving himself of serious political consequences. But again, I ask: What kind of principle is that? It shows good instincts, to be sure. I’m suggesting I expected Ryan to go down with the ship. But poisoning your relationship with the White House only works once. And Trump is especially petty and vindictive; he will not come home quickly or for a small price. That’s the pinnacle of the much-hyped Paul Ryan’s political savvy. He talked Donald Trump into jumping in front of a bus to save him.

It is hard not to wonder: Is Ryan jamming this through because he knows that a once-in-a-generation political scandal is about to swallow the White House? That is certainly consistent with what we’re seeing. But the alternative is that Ryan is a hack who can’t pass legislation with more than symbolic content. That’s possible, too. Whatever his reasons, yesterday drove home just how incompetent he is. Sure, you can hastily call a bill to the floor. But by skipping 12 months of hard work, you are just going to get trashed by your caucus.

You know who knew that?

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