With the possible exception of the infamous kegger at which he first drew up plans to destroy America’s social safety net, Speaker Paul Ryan has never been so animated as he was on Thursday, just before House Republicans narrowly voted to repeal Obamacare. He was hoarse as he shouted and stabbed the air with his finger, declaring how proud he was to take away health care from millions of people.
Republicans in Washington, D.C., are jubilant. The Hill reported that Republican leadership was blasting the theme music from Rocky before the vote. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy read quotes from General Patton, while Arizona Republican Martha McSally shouted, “Let’s get this fucking thing done!” President Donald Trump held a boisterous press conference in the Rose Garden, where he declared an “unbelievable victory.” Crates of Bud Light rolled into the Capitol.
No one needed a victory as much as Ryan and Trump, who were both badly embarrassed after their previous attempt at passing the American Health Care Act crashed and burned. Ryan needed to assert himself as speaker—to prove that he was capable of whipping votes and passing legislation. And Trump needed to prove that he’s capable of accomplishing something—in the first 106 days of his administration, he has often seemed like a lame duck.
House Republicans have effected a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the very wealthy—consistent with the only economic principle the GOP seems to believe in. But Ryan, Trump, and the House supported this cynical monstrosity of a bill out of a twisted political logic. They were damned if they didn’t pass an Obamacare repeal, because they had promised their base and their super-wealthy backers that they would do so. And they were damned if they did, because this bill is awful: If enacted, it will likely result in millions of largely sick and poor people being kicked off their health insurance, while driving up health care costs for almost everyone else.
We don’t know exactly how many people will lose their insurance, or how much this bill will cost, because the House, in an unprecedented and insanely reckless move, voted on the bill without getting a score from the CBO. It’s worth underscoring this: They voted for a massive bill to reorganize a sixth of the American economy without knowing what it would do.
This vote will backfire even if the bill doesn’t ultimately become law. It’s worth pointing out that spiking the football, as Ryan and Trump did, is remarkably short-sighted. The CBO is going to give this bill a terrible score, erasing whatever positive coverage Republicans are getting right now (CNN and other outlets are labeling this a “win”). And Republicans in the Senate are going to take months to change this bill into something more palatable, and it’s not clear that they can even do that.
If this bill does end up becoming law, it will do more than simply return the country’s health care system to the shambles it was in before Obamacare. Millions will lose their health care. Costs will rise. People will literally die. And if the bill doesn’t become law, it will stand as a morally repugnant vote. Republicans put millions of people’s lives at risk so they could tell their base they had voted to get rid of Obamacare. At the Rose Garden press conference, Trump and Ryan acted as if the bill had already become law. Expect footage of that press conference to haunt them when it is hurled at House Republicans in 2018.
Some Democrats were not-so-secretly rooting for the bill to pass the House, expecting it to die in the Senate. This is a classic example of counting political chickens before they’ve hatched. With this group of Republicans, in this climate, anything is possible, including the destruction of President Obama’s biggest domestic achievement. Still, the ads against Trump and the 217 Republicans who voted for this bill are already being cut, and health care will be the defining issue in the 2018 election. (“Premiums are going to be coming down. Deductibles are going to come down,” Trump declared. We’ll see about that.) For the first time since 2010, Democrats won’t be on the defensive—and Republicans may have just given them the key to take back the House.