So, what comes next in healthcare?
After Friday’s flame out in Congress of an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, even the staunchest defenders of the current system admit it needs to be repaired.
Paul Ryan, meanwhile, proved his ability to coordinate his caucus resembled a wrangler trying to herd spastic cats and the president proved while he has a bully pulpit Steve Bannon is no bully from the pulpit.
For many, the bombast before the healthcare vote was simply a matter of the president being all hat and no cattle.
Still, it occurs to me the other shoe hasn’t dropped.
While the Democrats, some of the Republicans, television news and the uninformed electorate are either bemoaning, defending or cheering and taunting one another because of the failed GOP plan, as Sean Spicer pointed out in his Monday afternoon press briefing – it ain’t over til it’s over. (With apologies to Yogi Berra).
Spicer also said the president knows how to walk away from a bad deal which makes me wonder if he was channeling Kenny Rogers – okay I’m not sure he knew what condition his condition was in, but maybe he knew when to fold them, when to hold them, when to walk away and when to run.
While the president said the current healthcare plan is doomed to fail and then people will be thankful he was around – oh boy when it does – I cannot get out of my head the visit at the White House of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel – even before the president and Spicer said he was going to court Democrats to find a cure to the healthcare problem.
The President hasn’t made many if any friends among Democrats. They’re scarcely even spoken about by this White House – unless it is to denigrate them. You don’t see them at impromptu news conferences on Pebble Beach outside of the West Wing. But the president is frustrated with the GOP on the Hill – some of which aren’t too fond of him either. So, while the Speaker of the House looks impotent in handling his own caucus the president is going to have to reach across the aisle to Democrats. If he removes the word “repeal” from his rhetoric about healthcare and substitutes “fix” he might just get a few Democrats to talk and listen to him.
If anyone from that side of the aisle engages the president – a move many think would be very beneficial to the electorate, then what happens next could resemble what Les Nessman said when the turkeys mounted a comeback after being dropped from a low-flying helicopter “It’s almost as if they were . . . organized.” (With apologies to WKRP in Cincinnati).
When all the dust settles, if there is one thing about President Trump people should understand and many don’t, it is that he does indeed intend to keep his campaign promises. He may be full of hyperbole. He may have issues. But he has remained as steady as a metronome when it comes to building a wall, increasing military spending, providing healthcare and taking care of infrastructure and an assortment of other issues – the president means what he says.
Little was made of Dr. Emanuel’s presence at the White House - one of the guiding forces behind the current healthcare package. He dodged every question from reporters when he left the White House even though I chased him to the gate and told him I had a great story about his brother in the backseat of a car in 1985. (True story there – Rahm Emanuel and I worked on a campaign together in 1985 and traveled together for a while. There’s nothing salacious to the story, but there it is.)
If Dr. Emanuel wanted to gloat or defend the current health plan or even make the president uncomfortable, he certainly could’ve offered a comment. That he did not makes me question the nature of his conversation with the president even more.
Could there, indeed be a long game in place? Could an attempt to really tackle the problem be in the offing – rather than the politically motivated train wreck we’ve witnessed for the last seven years?
When the president sent Bannon to Congress to bully the GOP, was he engaging in an act of hubris or was there something deeper going on?
Back in 1987 one guy wrote a book that could be used in this circumstance. He said you should maximize your options, know your market, think big, deliver the goods and contain the costs among other things.(1)
If the President follows this advice then this first foray into fixing healthcare is but a slow step toward fixing a massive problem. The key is not where we are now, but where we are three to six months from the midterm elections.
It is far too early to pronounce the healthcare effort dead. If the president is indeed playing the long game, or following any of the advice from that book, we’re not done yet.
Congress finds itself in a very interesting position. Healthcare is a huge issue and the possibilities of true bipartisanship on an issue that matters to everybody are unlimited – sentiments echoed Monday afternoon by Spicer.
Or this could all be wishful thinking. It could all be as we see it – a giant mess where the GOP and the Democrats continue to fight because no one has the ability or desire to tackle the problem in a bipartisan manner and the president’s minions are merely bullies who do not understand the legislative process.
In retrospect perhaps the president should’ve chosen infrastructure as his first battle in Congress. There’s a greater chance for cooperation with the Democrats and who wants to speak up against roads and bridges?
But it is what it is. If the president’s loss ends up spurring greater bipartisan cooperation and if the GOP leadership awakens to the reality the electorate is just as frustrated with them as the Democrats, well we might just have something. At the end of the day people will be crowing how brilliantly the president played this issue – and they’d be right.
When Spicer left the podium Monday I asked if we would see healthcare legislation before the midterm election. He paused, but didn’t say a word.
I don’t think he was being rude. He really doesn’t know.
It’s a giant question mark that ultimately could make or break the presidency – and for that matter the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate too.
(1)Trump: The Art of the Deal, 1987. Random House