Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are planning on moving forward with the GOP's Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan (still officially not released in full). The plan itself is still likely to change, and they're having trouble getting all of the Republicans on board, but they want to move forward. After all:
“I don’t think we should act as if we going to be in the majority forever,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’ve been given a temporary lease on power if you will, and I think we need to use it responsibly.”
This reminds me of a story: a president comes into power with both houses and an agenda to reform healthcare. He works hard to get his whole party on board--after much altering of the legislature--and after much ado, passes a bill without a single vote from the minority opposition party. Everyone gets very excited as it's finally done and we can all move on now.
Except the next 6 years are marred with endless attempts by the opposition party to take down this plan and lo, one day they have their own majority, and the repeal is still high on their minds.
Such was the story of the Democrats after President Obama took power in 2009. They spent quite a while hammering out a plan that would make enough Democrats happy to vote for it, and snuck through a bill while they still had both branches.
The Republicans are about to do the same thing. They're going to rely on a temporary majority, crack the whip within their own ranks, and power through a plan that the other party hates.
What surprises me is the fact that the Republicans believe that this time, it will be at all different. Democrats support Obamacare with staggering numbers. The bitterness of the fight to keep Obamacare will linger on tongues for years to come. Just as the bitterness lingered on the very Republican tongues that are licking their chops to replace it.
If the GOP repeals and replaces Obamacare without any Democratic votes in support, the new bill will have a legitimacy problem. It will carry the weight of being a partisan haberdashery that was slammed through during a temporary majority. Just as with Obamacare, the dust won't settle, people won't just be happy, and they won't just move on. They'll come back and fight.
And, someday, the Democrats will get their majority back. And it may not take 6 years this time.
How can the Republicans avoid having their hard work foiled and reversed, just as the Democrats might? The answer is simple, but not easy: work with Democrats.
There are Democrats in both houses of Congress that are keenly interested in coming up with a plan that will last. The Republicans' six years of constant opposition to Obamacare was probably frustrating, but it's a sign to anyone thinking long-term that they need a plan that at least some people of both parties can agree with.
The Democrats bet on the dust settling, and they lost. Some of them, even in their frustration, will see that even as they lose Obamacare, there is an opportunity for them to influence what comes next. These Democrats can make deals and hack together compromises with the GOP for the Republicans to secure their votes--just as Republicans are doing within their own ranks.
Republicans need to find those Democrats. It won't take too many--just enough to give a whiff of bipartisanship to the bill. They'll need to pass something that has a handful of Democrats (ideally in seats that swing between Republican and Democrat frequently, so they're less likely to get Primaried for betrayal to the party line and working with the enemy) behind it. Having just a few will get the public to think a little bit differently about the bill. It will change the branding of the bill and make it easier to sell in the long term. It changes the narrative: no, this bill was not just a one-party ramrod, but a team effort.
In the future, the Democrats would have less gunpowder to protest it for years and replace it as soon as they have their own majority. Getting some Democrats on board--however odd it may seem--is the GOP's best bet on getting their plan to stick in the long term. Whatever that plan ends up being.
The question is whether Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are students of history.