One of the biggest losses in the Trump era hasn’t just been common decency, civil discourse or some semblance of global respect. We all knew those L’s were coming when Trump won the Republican nomination. The nation has also lost the kind of House of Cards-esque maneuvering that was the calling card of the Obama presidency. While Obama faced an obstructionist congress, his policy maneuvers with the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package were a master’s class in legislative wrangling by someone who really wasn’t that good of a deal maker.
Now, despite running every single aspect of the government, the Republican Party has failed to accomplish much in the first nine months of the Trump presidency and their signature move, to finally repeal Obamacare and replace it with a phony zombie Republican Obamacare health plan has finally run out of time. In a quiet announcement last week, the Senate Parliamentarian said Congress only has until Sept. 30 to repeal Obamacare, and that’s a deadline Republican’s just can’t make.
A quick recap: When we last left the Republicans in Congress, they were still stamping their feet and pouting about John McCain single handedly smashing their plans to repeal Obamacare. Republicans had proposed something called a “skinny repeal,” which sounds like a not-quite-FDA-approved moisturizer from L’Occitane. “Skinny repeal” would have killed Obamacare and in its wake left a struggling shambling semblance of the policy that would have limped from insurance marketplace to insurance marketplace scaring little children and pushing seniors into poverty or worse. Due to the complexity of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans had to use the “reconciliation process,” which is just a complicated way to say that since the ACA dealt with budgetary issues, it could be amended, or actually repealed with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60. John McCain (R-AZ) along with Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined with Democrats in voting against “skinny repeal” and the whole thing went down in flames.
Publicly, Republicans vowed they would try again to take health care from 20 million Americans, but most of them were looking for a way out of a fight that would be politically damaging in the mid-terms. Then Elizabeth McDonough came into the picture. McDonough is the Senate parliamentarian, essentially a living super computer of arcane Senate rules whose job it is to tell members of Congress what they can and cannot do. McDonough announced last week that the Senate deadline to use the reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare runs out on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, giving Republicans basically two weeks to write a new bill, get it through a House and Senate vote then to Trump’s desk to sign, with basically none of the issues from the July vote actually resolved. This is not happening.
Now, there are options that the Republican Party has to continue the process. They could simply fire the parliamentarian—that’s been done before. They could pass a new budget and include reconciliation again for Obamacare repeal, but they don’t have a budget yet. They could hope that Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) corruption trial goes horribly awry, he’s sent to jail and Chris Christie appoints a Republican to the Senate who’s willing to vote for an Obamacare repeal. Of course, all of that would have to happen in the next few weeks, and that’s about as likely as John McCain dying and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointing a skinny repeal-loving replacement who’d vote down the bill.
This parliamentary ruling in no way means that the Affordable Care Act is safe from harm. The Trump administration is intentionally defunding advertising for the medical enrollments in hopes of depressing participation, and right wing outlets continue to promote the myth that the policy is about to collapse. However, in the short term it means that the basic structure of Obamacare will be relatively intact likely until the midterm elections. Republican zombie Obamacare is dead and so is any repeal effort, meaning that’s one less thing America has to worry about Trump destroying. For now.