How can President Trump and the GOP Congress escape the political damage from their failed pledge to produce a better healthcare plan than ObamaCare — one that covers more people, offers more choice and is cheaper?
If Congress can’t pass the current flawed Republican plan, Trump told leading conservative groups last week, he has a Plan B. It is to keep badmouthing the Affordable Care Act as a “disaster” and then blame Democrats when ObamaCare collapses.
He is going to need a Plan C because there is a big problem with Plan B.
It was Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE of Florida, who drained money from “risk corridors” created to protect insurance companies from losing money.
And Republicans in 19 states refused to expand Medicaid, keeping about 4 million eligible Americans away from health insurance offered by ObamaCare.
It was Trump who cancelled advertising aimed at bringing more people into the program. Congressional Republicans also made a point of scaring away sports teams and celebrities ready to join in public service campaigns to tell people about the benefits of getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Who can forget all the scary claims coming from Congressional Republicans and candidate Trump about skyrocketing premiums under ObamaCare? They sounded the alarm without saying that most people in ObamaCare had nothing to fear because of federal subsidies. They also did not mention that premiums would have been higher without ObamaCare.
Despite the Republican effort, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected enrollment in ObamaCare would jump from 10 million in 2017 to 13 million in the next ten years.
Actual enrollment for ObamaCare 2017, despite the non-stop GOP chorus predicting its death, came in at 9.2 million, about 500,000 less than in 2016. “Open enrollment was a success, and it would have been even higher without the Trump administration’s efforts to suppress enrollment,” Leslie Dach, director of the Protect Our Care Coalition, told CNBC in February.
Also in December, Standard and Poor’s investment ratings service said an increasing number of insurance companies participating in the ObamaCare program would make money this year.
And the CBO reported last week that ObamaCare would cost one-third less than originally projected. It is saving money.
Opinion polls also show rising public support for ObamaCare in the face of all the Republican libels.
Pew Research Center and Kaiser Family Foundation both report record high levels of support for ObamaCare, with Pew finding 54 percent of the public approving of the healthcare program while 43 percent remain in opposition.
A Monmouth University poll released last week also found that a majority of Americans — 51 percent — say they want Congress to keep the ACA and improve it.
“Any changes in ObamaCare will need to take into account that a clear majority want it either left alone or expanded,” Dr. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said after releasing a late February poll showing 67 percent opposition to complete repeal.
These polls are evidence that Republicans are so intent on damaging ObamaCare that they are no longer listening to voters.
The House Republicans’ replacement plan, the American Health Care Act, has not been scored by the non-partisan CBO. But critics on the left and right have been fiercely critical. And key questions remain, such as exactly how much it will cost and how many people it will leave uninsured.
Amazingly, the Trump White House is trying to pre-emptively discredit the CBO before it issues its report. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing last week “If you’re looking to the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
But attacking the CBO is not going to be enough to fool anyone. Even among conservative hardliners, there is opposition to the House version of a new healthcare plan. Tea Party pressure groups like Heritage Action, and Koch brothers-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks came out swinging against the bill.
Perhaps the most important foe of the House bill is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which represents over 38 million senior citizens.
“This bill would weaken Medicare's fiscal sustainability, dramatically increase health care costs for Americans aged 50-64 and put at risk the health care of millions of children and adults with disabilities, and poor seniors who depend on the Medicaid program for long-term services and supports and other benefits," wrote AARP senior vice president Joyce A. Rogers.
Also standing in opposition to the GOP plan are the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American College of Physicians (ACP).
According to exit polls, voters over the age of 65 backed Trump over Clinton, 52 percent to 45 percent in the November election. The blowback from those voters over the GOP failure to produce a better healthcare plan could produce a nightmare for Republicans in the 2018 midterms.
President Trump, however, is pushing the bill and Congressional GOP leadership say they are confident that it will pass.
Perhaps they have been in the right-wing media bubble so long that they can no longer discern reality from their talking points when it comes to ObamaCare.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.