Opinion: Now we see if President Trump can take a punch

Back to the drawing board  (from the AJC):

"House Republican leaders have shelved legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare, according to multiple media reports. ... The fate of the White House-backed measure, known as the American Health Care Act, is unclear moving forward. White House officials previously told GOP lawmakers that they would move on to other issues if the current health care bill failed on Friday."

This is a bloody nose for Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump, both of whom staked a lot on getting this bill through the House and on to the Senate, where significant changes presumably were on tap. Trump previously indicated that, in the event the bill stalled, he would leave Obamacare in place and move on to other issues. But it's far from clear he can get away with that. Repealing and replacing Obamacare is a GOP promise that predates Trump's entry into politics, much less his presidency, and Republicans will be hard-pressed now to leave Americans stuck with a crumbling law and hope they blame Democrats as it continues to fall apart.

The urgent questions aren't just for Ryan and Trump, though. The House Freedom Caucus drove this result, egged on by conservative groups such as Freedom Works and the Heritage Foundation. But as with the removal of John Boehner as speaker, which led to the elevation not of Ryan rather than one of the caucus' own members, it's highly uncertain that this group of 40 or so lawmakers has the wherewithal to push a rival plan that could actually pass the House. Remember: Moderate Republicans had their doubts about this bill, too.

The House bill was far from perfect , but it might have represented the bulk of what could be done within the limits of the arcane budget reconciliation process. Some Freedom Caucus members and others suggested a clean repeal of Obamacare could be made via reconciliation, with a more comprehensive replacement plan passed later outside that process. That seems like pie in the sky. For one, the public was not going to be satisfied with losing the bird in the hand without any guarantee there even is a bush, much less another bird in it; status quo bias is a real thing. For another, it's fantasy to believe Democrats were going to go along with a replacement bill simply because Obamacare was gone. And, short of winning eight more Senate seats next year, amid this political mess, that leaves Republicans trying to pass a new bill via ... wait for it ... the reconciliation process.

Fortunes change quickly in Washington, and Trump in particular has defied the laws of political gravity many times over the past couple of years. But this failure will be a real test of his ability to be truly different from other politicians.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield
Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.