After this election season, the Democrats have become America’s minority party in Washington, D.C. The Republican Party now controls the presidency, the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. What was expected by prominent political analysts like Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight to be a decisive Clinton win and a subsequently self-destructive Republican civil war instead turned into an overwhelming Republican victory.
For some conservatives, this victory was founded in President Obama’s failure to unify his party. They believe the current President swapped political compromise and party-building for his own self-promotion, costing him his congressional majorities and leading to disastrous midterms. However, Republicans’ in-party division, regarding the Affordable Care Act, elucidated the notion that dismantling certain aspects of his legacy -might not be an easy, unilateral GOP decision.
Better known as Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act offers consumers discounts known as tax credits on government-sponsored health insurance plans and expands the Medicaid assistance program to include more people who cannot afford health care. Obamacare also makes it harder for insurance companies to turn down patients if they have preexisting medical conditions.
Conservatives oppose Obamacare for the same reason liberals favor it: through Medicaid expansion, it subsidizes insurance coverage for people of modest means by raising taxes on those who are more well-off. Conservatives tend not to be enthusiastic about redistribution, particularly so when it is not transparent.
The GOP further opposes Obamacare based on the widespread belief that the main driver of the government’s fiscal distress is the soaring cost of health entitlements, like Medicare and Medicaid. Some members of the GOP think Obamacare’s efficiency gains are exaggerated and that Obamacare’s highly prescriptive approach to insurance will hinder cost-saving innovation, and be followed by soaring costs as it expands.
Only one month into Trump as President-elect, it is clear there will be dramatic changes in most areas of policy, including the Affordable Care Act. But the extent to which such changes can reverse Obama’s signature initiative — Obamacare — is highly debatable.
Opposition to Obamacare seems to have been mostly led by partisan considerations and skepticism toward parts of its implementation, rather than the very substance of the program. In fact, a number of leadingRepublicans have argued they would most likely replace, rather than repeal, Obamacare with something intrinsically similar to it. For example, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) has proposed a plan that gets rid of the mandate to buy insurance, but would still subsidize coverage by offering tax credits to help those seeking to buy insurance, drawing criticism from other members of the GOP as a result.
This echoes President-elect Donald Trump’s promise that no one will lose their care in the new systems and that key protections will remain — rhetoric hinting Obamacare will be reformed, rather than merely repealed or abandoned.
Despite controlling every branch of the federal government, the GOP would be unable to repeal and replace Obamacare without Democrats, as the Senate majority can only pass a bill that changes taxes and spending. Republicans need a 60-seat supermajority in the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster. When the new Congress starts in January, Republicans will hold 52 Senate seats.
Even if Republican Senators did not need Democrats to repeal Obamacare, it seems unlikely they would choose to entirely replace it. A Kaiser Family Foundation Poll found that the percentage of Republicans who support a full repeal has dropped from 69 percent to 52 percent since a month before the election. Republicans are reticent to deny medical treatment to potentially millions of Americans.
If the GOP loosens regulations by allowing insurers to sell cheaper plans to young consumers, then older people and those with medical conditions will have to pay more. This win-lose system would spur public outcry, which would then make it hard for Republicans to justify this and other similar policies in Congress. In this way, the GOP is scared of facing political accountability for making healthcare unaffordable for millions of already insured Americans. Therefore, although Obama’s legacy may appear to be under threat by a Republican-dominated Washington, his hallmark legislation of Obamacare will likely survive Trump’s administration.
Martha Petrocheilos is a student at the law center. This is the final installment of Millennial’s Corner.
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