AGAINST THE GRAIN

Paul Ryan’s Political Blind Spot

By pushing through an Obamacare replacement that has little support with the public or his caucus, he’s risking a major political backlash against the GOP.

House Speaker Paul Ryan
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
March 14, 2017, 8 p.m.

House Speak­er Paul Ry­an is a bril­liant policy wonk, but he seems ob­li­vi­ous to the pop­u­list polit­ic­al forces that pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to the pres­id­ency. And after this month’s dis­play of un­even health care sales­man­ship by the White House, it’s not clear that Trump ap­pre­ci­ates how the speak­er’s health care le­gis­la­tion threatens to ali­en­ate the work­ing-class voters who provided his nar­row mar­gin of vic­tory in last year’s pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

The emer­ging mess over selling Ry­an’s ver­sion of health care re­form is ex­pos­ing an un­pleas­ant polit­ic­al real­ity for the fisc­ally re­spons­ible wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party: People like free stuff, and it’s aw­fully dif­fi­cult to take en­ti­tle­ments away after they’re gran­ted. Ry­an’s en­tire ca­reer has been based on the sunny be­lief that well-in­ten­tioned re­forms have a siz­able con­stitu­ency of voters wor­ried about budget-bust­ing gov­ern­ment giveaways. But there’s a long trail of evid­ence that points the oth­er way. Just look at Trump’s win­ning cam­paign mes­sage, unique for a Re­pub­lic­an, pledging to pro­tect en­ti­tle­ments.

Pres­id­ent George W. Bush learned that the hard way when he tackled So­cial Se­cur­ity re­form at the be­gin­ning of his second term. Al­though Bush claimed a man­date from his reelec­tion, many nervous Re­pub­lic­ans quickly de­fec­ted as Demo­crats ef­fect­ively ex­ploited voter anxi­ety about privat­iz­ing a long-stand­ing pub­lic pro­gram. In 2012, when Ry­an was tapped as Mitt Rom­ney’s run­ning mate, Rom­ney dis­tanced him­self from the “Path to Prosper­ity” budget blue­print that Ry­an had cham­pioned in the House. That didn’t stop Demo­crats from slam­ming the tick­et for sup­port­ing cuts to Medi­care—one ma­jor reas­on why the Rom­ney-Ry­an tick­et ran poorly among work­ing-class voters, es­pe­cially in the Mid­west­ern swing states that would go on to sup­port Trump in 2016.

Even Pres­id­ent Obama’s sig­na­ture health care le­gis­la­tion cre­ated both polit­ic­al win­ners and losers, which is the main reas­on it be­came such a po­lar­iz­ing law. Polit­ic­ally speak­ing, its fatal flaw was that it re­dis­trib­uted be­ne­fits from the young to the old, and from the wealthy to the poor. It placed in­flex­ible man­dates on young­er Amer­ic­ans and small busi­nesses, while rais­ing premi­ums for many who bought in­sur­ance on the in­di­vidu­al mar­ket. All that dis­rup­tion came at a massive polit­ic­al cost, in­clud­ing both cham­bers of Con­gress.

So it’s sur­pris­ing that Ry­an didn’t pick up any polit­ic­al les­sons des­pite hav­ing a front-row seat to ap­praise the de­fects of Obama­care. For all the at­ten­tion be­ing paid to the 29 dis­rupt­ive Free­dom Caucus mem­bers in the House, it’s the 36 Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers in com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts who are much more im­port­ant to the speak­er’s fu­ture. While many are re­main­ing tight-lipped now, there’s palp­able nervous­ness that they’re be­ing forced to cast a polit­ic­ally pois­on­ous vote for le­gis­la­tion that has little chance of passing through the Sen­ate.

Re­mem­ber: It’s the House that is po­ten­tially in play for 2018, not the Sen­ate. Ry­an is risk­ing his party’s com­fort­able con­trol of the lower cham­ber on a bet that re­peal­ing and re­pla­cing Obama­care is the top pri­or­ity for Amer­ic­ans. And he’s do­ing it without en­er­get­ic back­ing from Pres­id­ent Trump, and without even at­tempt­ing to win over red-state Demo­crats up for reelec­tion in 2018.

Rep. Dar­rell Issa of Cali­for­nia, re­garded as the most vul­ner­able House Re­pub­lic­an, has already come out against the le­gis­la­tion in its cur­rent form. Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkan­sas, one of the most pro-Trump voices in the Sen­ate, has been an out­spoken con­ser­vat­ive crit­ic of Ry­an’s plan. It’s no co­in­cid­ence that his home state has seen the largest re­duc­tion in the un­in­sured between 2013 and 2015. Sen. Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­gin­ia, rep­res­ent­ing the Trumpi­est state in the coun­try, was one of the first four GOP sen­at­ors to cri­ti­cize the Ry­an le­gis­la­tion over con­cerns about Medi­caid fund­ing.

The fact that the cri­ti­cisms are com­ing from states where Trump won over­whelm­ingly should be es­pe­cially con­cern­ing to the White House. The most out­spoken sen­at­ori­al crit­ics of Ry­an’s le­gis­la­tion hail from Ohio, Ken­tucky, Arkan­sas, Texas, West Vir­gin­ia, and Utah—all solidly GOP states in last year’s elec­tion. The fact that eco­nom­ic self-in­terest is trump­ing polit­ic­al par­tis­an­ship on this is­sue should be a ma­jor red flag to Re­pub­lic­ans. In fact, a new Demo­crat­ic sur­vey of Obama-Trump voters (con­duc­ted by An­za­lone-Liszt Grove Re­search) found that 58 per­cent of them viewed Obama­care fa­vor­ably. This is the new GOP con­stitu­ency that cham­pioned Trump’s pop­u­lism but nev­er was com­fort­able with tra­di­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an or­tho­doxy.

As one de­jec­ted Demo­crat­ic poll­ster told me after the elec­tion: “The only way we can win back Obama-Trump voters is on Planned Par­ent­hood cuts or if they over­reach on health care.” The GOP strategy is play­ing right in­to Demo­crat­ic hands. It’s the equi­val­ent of the At­lanta Fal­cons get­ting pass-happy des­pite hold­ing a 25-point lead over the New Eng­land Pat­ri­ots in the Su­per Bowl. The GOP’s polit­ic­al max­im should be akin to the Hip­po­crat­ic Oath: First, do no harm. In­stead, they are en­dan­ger­ing their most vul­ner­able mem­bers.

What We're Following See More »
AFTER HE POSTED THREATENING PHOTO
Judge Orders Stone Gag Order
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
DATES TBD
New Election Ordered in NC-09
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS
Source:
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
6 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
6 days ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
COULD SOW DIVISION AMONG REPUBLICANS
House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
6 days ago
THE DETAILS

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login