By David Cruz
House Speaker Paul Ryan stood alone at the podium and took his lumps as the face of the biggest Republican failure since Dewey defeated Truman. But a defeat this big is never accomplished by one man alone and, while Ryan didn’t point any fingers, many Republicans were saying that the president should take some of the blame. The president? He was pointing elsewhere.
“We had no Democrat support; we had no votes from the Democrats,” said the president. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do.”
But there were plenty of Republican votes that went away as the vote drew near. Here in Jersey, four of the five Republican congressmen were opposed — including Rodney Frelinghuysen, chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Only Tom MacArthur stuck with his yes vote. In the case of Frelinghuysen, especially, it seemed clear that pressure from the group NJ 11th For Change had an impact.
“I don’t think there’s any question, and I think it shows that democracy works,” said Congressman Frank Pallone. “Ever since Donald Trump took office there’s been this whole grassroots movement: the Women’s March, the people that showed up at the airports because they were opposed to the travel ban. And I think that energy was helpful in having this repeal of the ACA fail.”
MacArthur said he did his best to make the bill more palatable. “This bill was not perfect — no bill is — but it was a dramatic improvement from where it started,” said a statement from his office. “It didn’t have enough votes to pass, but I stand by my efforts to improve it.”
And, improving the Affordable Care Act is something Democrats say they’re open to. On Friday, as the Republican effort was crashing and burning, Sen. Bob Menendez said he was open to tweaking the ACA.
“If we can come to a point, which we’ve tried several times to try to perfect the law, to improve it, to try to create other opportunities to hold down rates, to have more competitive efforts to have greater outcome results that would lower costs, I think we can do a better thing for the American people,” said Menendez on Friday.
Pallone said there is hope that a better health care program could emerge from the wreckage of the American Health Care Act bill. “My fear right now is, you know president Trump goes back and forth, some days he says it’s falling apart and you worry that he’s going to use the department and the regulations to make it worse, which he could do if he wants to,” he said. “I hope he doesn’t do that and works with Congress on a bipartisan basis, to make some improvements and that’s what I hope.”
But fix, don’t nix, is what Dems have been saying all along. Expanding Medicaid to states that haven’t done so yet, increasing subsidy amounts and finding a way to get younger people to opt in are just a few ways to improve the ACA, said Pallone.
As the speaker said, the ACA is now the law of the land. It remains to be seen whether Republicans and Democrats will try to come together to fix what ails it or whether both sides have decided that the issue itself has lost its political usefulness.