News & Politics

Obama: Republicans Should Have Told Me About Their Better Healthcare Ideas in 2009

(Rex Features via AP Images)

President Barack Obama taunted Republican lawmakers Friday as they prepared to gut his “signature legislative achievement” ObamaCare.

During an online interview with left-wing White House echo-chamber “explainer” website Vox, Obama snidely said that he would publicly support repealing “Obamacare” if Republicans could come up with something better, but expressed doubt that the GOP would be able to manage it.

“Now is the time that Republicans have to go ahead and show their cards,” the president said. “If in fact, they have a program that would genuinely work better, and they want to call it whatever they want — they can call it TrumpCare, they can call it McConnellCare or RyanCare. If it actually works, I will be the first one to say, great.” He added, “You [the GOP] should have told me that back in 2009. I asked.”

Kellyanne Conway responded to Obama’s comments on Fox News Friday night.

“He’s just being sarcastic — I don’t know why — it’s not very becoming,” she told “The O’Reilly Factor” fill-in host Eric Bolling. “Here’s the thing, I was in the closed-door meeting with the Republican conference on Wednesday that was led by our Vice President-elect Mike Pence. The main topic of conversation was repealing and replacing ObamaCare — having a very serious, substantive conversation about how to do that, knowing that millions of people rely upon it, knowing that pre-existing condition coverage is popular.”

“But Eric,” Conway continued, “we did try to help in 2009. We were rebuffed and won everything not nailed to the ground in 2010 because ObamaCare was the first major entitlement passed in this country without a single vote from one of the two political parties. It passed without a single Republican vote. His party owns it.”

She, of course, nailed it. It is not for nothing that Kellyanne Conway is known as “the Queen of Comebacks.”

Republican proposals went nowhere in Congress in 2009, and Democrats plowed ahead without their support. But that didn’t stop Obama from heralding “unprecedented progress” on the bill at the time.

As Avik Roy explained in Forbes in April of 2012 when the Supreme Court was still deciding ObamaCare’s fate, there had been a path to bipartisan healthcare reform in 2009, but the Democrats rejected it. The Democratic leadership — specifically Obama and Harry Reid — had no interest in a bipartisan deal.

Universal-coverage activist John McDonough, in his book Inside National Health Reform, recounts that Max Baucus’ original November 2008 blueprint for health reform “had made known [Baucus’] intention to use changes in the tax treatment of health insurance as his major financing source to pay for reform.” As Baucus put it in his blueprint, “It is time to explore ways in which tax incentives can be modified to distribute benefits more fairly and effectively…This could be done by limiting or capping the tax exclusion based on the value of health benefits, or as an alternative, based on a person’s income—or both.”

This was a sound idea that could have gotten bipartisan support.

But the President, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) were having none of that. As Roll Call reported at the time, “According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus it wasn’t worth securing [Republican] support.”

McDonough, who was on the inside during these discussions, notes that Democratic leaders felt that it was unnecessary to solicit Republican support because Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate. “Reid’s directive, backed by the White House and supported by the House, was motivated in part by the seating of Minnesota’s Al Franken, the Democrats’ elusive sixtieth vote, meaning that Republicans were no longer needed to pass a bill.

Democrats, unwilling to budge on broader reform, then tried to ram through a partisan expansion of coverage, with substantial tax increases and an individual mandate, and zero structural reform to Medicare, Medicaid, and the employer tax exclusion. They got what they wanted. But blaming Republican intransigence for this outcome is myth-making, pure and simple. The blame goes to left-wing Democrats, who refused to entertain a more balanced approach to health reform.

Put simply, liberals’ principal goal was and is universal coverage, and conservatives’ principal goal was and is entitlement reform. These two goals could have been simultaneously accomplished in a bipartisan bill, but liberals had no desire to reform entitlements.

So Conway is right. Obama’s hyperpartisan, scorched-earth campaign to pass the unpopular bill without a single Republican vote led to the Democrats’ “shellacking” in 2010. One could also make the argument that it contributed to their epic defeats in 2014 and 2016.

Obama and congressional Democrats want to pretend that they have the moral high ground on ObamaCare because it has extended insurance coverage to millions of Americans. But Obama’s “signature achievement” remains as unpopular today as the day it was so ignominiously passed. That is because all of the lies and hyperpartisan tactics Democrats used to get the healthcare law passed have permanently tainted it. It is also because ObamaCare is an expensive, substandard product that millions of very unsatisfied Americans are forced to buy against their will.

If millions of Americans end up losing insurance due to the repeal of ObamaCare, how would that be any worse than what happened to millions of individual policyholders when ObamaCare was launched? If Republicans are honest and say upfront that there will be a disruption in coverage for some people, that would be much better than what the deceitful Democrats did when cramming the law down the nation’s throat.

Republicans do need to tread carefully in their repeal and replace endeavors, but they should not allow themselves to be intimidated by shameless Democrat shysters — especially the soon-to-be former president of the United States.