President Donald Trump is not a literary man, but he could have been channeling Tennyson on Tuesday morning when he appeared before members of the House Republican Conference to demand their support for a deeply unpopular proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!"
People in the room said Trump outlined a stark choice: Either press forward with the House leadership’s plan, despite its glaring flaws and the near certainty of ultimate defeat in the Senate or return to their constituents in shame, having faltered when given the chance to get rid of Obamacare.
"Many of you came in on the pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said according to several reports. “I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don't get this done.”
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
It wasn’t supposed to work out this way.
Sure, to a person House Republicans want to repeal the ACA, but the idea was always to have some sort of replacement waiting in the wings that would make voters happy. The idea was definitely not to send them on a suicide mission, passing a piece of legislation supported by barely 30 percent of the electorate just for the sake of being able to say they passed it.
But here they are. The House leadership’s American Health Care Act is politically toxic. Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have staked a massive amount of political capital on this bill, and they appear intent on driving it forward even as cooler heads in the Senate warn that the plan, as written, is fatally flawed and stands no chance of becoming law.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
On Tuesday, though, Trump and House leadership made it plain that they were no longer interested in objections or excuses from the rank and file. During the meeting, according to Politico, Trump promised one influential holdout, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, “I’m gonna come after you” if the bill fails.
For the best part of a week, White House aides like Press Secretary Sean Spicer have been warning that the AHCA is the only option House Republicans have for finally repealing Obamacare.
Speaker Ryan, after Trump’s remarks, said in a press conference that the message had been that it is time for action. “The president was really clear,” Ryan said. “He laid it on the line for everybody. We made a promise and now’s the time to keep our promise.”
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
But in demanding loyalty from the Republicans in the House, Trump and Ryan are asking them to expose themselves to harsh attacks from across the political spectrum.
Hard-right conservatives have dubbed AHCA it “Obamacare-lite” and cast it as an actual betrayal of that promise to undo the ACA because it keeps some of the existing law’s elements in place. They view the bill’s refundable tax credits for funding insurance premium payments as the creation of another entitlement program.
At the same time, moderates come at the bill from the left, dismayed by a Congressional Budget Office analysis that shows AHCA will cost 24 million Americans their health insurance over a decade while reducing care and increasing costs for the poor and elderly.
Finally, even if they manage to hold together long enough to pass the legislation through the House, it will run smack into a Senate where their Republican colleagues have shown little enthusiasm for matching their sacrifice.
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
In the end, there will be no poets memorializing the Obamacare-Lite Brigade’s assault on the Affordable Care Act. But all the world will, indeed, wonder. Specifically, it will wonder what they were thinking.