A Disunified Party in Power: Republicans off to a shaky start with ACA Repeal

Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. (ZACH GIBSON, AP)

January 9, 2016 — On the floor of the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) stands in front of a large posterboard emblazoned with a neon yellow “$9.7 trillion” — the amount of money he claims national spending will be increased by, were the current budget reconciliation plan to pass.

Paul is arguing that the current budget plan – widely considered the vehicle to repealing the Affordable Care Act – allows for an unnecessary increase in spending. Instead, he proposes what he calls a similar plan with one exception: balancing the budget in the next five years through budget cuts. It is not surprising when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) rebuffs Paul, giving an impassioned speech in defense of “working families, the children, the sick and the poor” in true Sanders fashion, but perhaps it is surprising when the rest of the Senate votes. Both Democrats and Republicans reject Paul’s amendment to the budget plan in large numbers, with a few notable exceptions including Sen. Rubio (R-Fl.) and Sen. Cruz (R-Tx.).

The fact that Republicans are unwilling to support what, in Paul’s own words, is a truly “conservative budget”, is actually just an ephemeral glimpse into a much larger and more significant trend: the split of the Republican Party. It’s not the clean-cut split of the Democrats between the moderate establishment and the more radical nor is it the split that was recently predicted for the Republican Party over the election of Donald Trump, although that has certainly been a factor.

Instead, the Republican Party is turning on itself in its own indecisiveness. It’s understandable; for eight hyperpolarized years, the Republicans’ agenda has been to block that of the Democrats, even if it meant shutting down the government. Now that the GOP controls the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and likely the Supreme Court soon, the party is waking up to the fact that it must actually spearhead new policies and laws, and not just as rebuttals to Democrats’ bills.

Take the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example. In the vein of Trump’s promise to begin ACA repeal on “day one” of his presidency, the new Republican-controlled Congress has begun efforts to repeal the ACA. However, the fact that ACA repeal has been bundled in with budget reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered and only needs 51 votes to pass in the Senate instead of 60, should be an indicator of their precarious position itself. Doubts about the viability of a “repeal and delay” solution have been trickling in, with big Republican players like Senators Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander, John McCain, and Susan Collins voicing resistance to the idea that repealing ACA is first priority, regardless of whether Republicans have a backup healthcare plan or not. Nine different senators have expressed similar concerns, a number significantly higher from the three defections needed to lose Republicans the majority they would need to pass the repeal. President-elect Trump has added to the mounting pressure by demanding that Congress repeal ACA and get a new healthcare law passed quickly and continuing to publicly promise an immediate substitute, giving lawmakers only weeks to replace a system that took nearly two years to pass. In addition, Sens. Paul Ryan (R-Wi.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to push for “repeal and delay”. However, the growing hesitance within the Republican party to continue with the legacy of not doing much beyond opposing Obama and the Democrats may win out, as several senators have also signed onto an amendment that would postpone the budget reconciliation deadline from January 27 to March 3. This is still not a necessarily practical amount of time to draft an ACA replacement but instead, an indication that a faction of Republicans has acknowledged the weighty task ahead of them.

Featured Image Source: Zach Gibson/AP