Before the Affordable Care Act had even been signed into law, congressional Republicans were promising to veto it. Those solemn vows continued throughout the 2010 midterms, helping Republicans take back the House in the tea party wave.
They used that position of power to pass repeal after repeal after repeal — and to point at the Democratic-controlled Senate as an obstacle to be overcome.
In 2014 they finally took the upper chamber back. With unified control of Congress, in 2015 they sent President Obama a full repeal of Obamacare. He vetoed it. The message to activists was clear: Republicans needed to control the White House, too.
In 2016, they took the White House. And then things got real.
With the prospect of repeal actually becoming law, the House blinked in March, and Speaker Paul Ryan pulled his repeal-and-replace bill from the House floor. As flawed as the Affordable Care Act was and is, repeal would throw millions off of health insurance and drive up premiums. Republicans had nothing better to replace it with, largely because the ACA was originally a Heritage-devised concept to begin with. “Obamacare is the law of the land,” Ryan acknowledged.
Not so fast, said President Trump, never one to worry about real-world consequences. Entirely divorced from the policy discussion, Trump looked only at the politics of failure and recoiled. He piled on the House Freedom Caucus, blaming them for a loss that had many fathers. And so the Freedom Caucus said fine, we’ll vote for something and send it to the Senate, where it’ll die.
The premise behind the renewed effort in the House to pass a bill was always that: the Senate will fix whatever we do, so don’t worry about the details of what’s in ours. For the House, it felt a bit like Obama was back in the White House, with his veto pen the blankie that Republicans needed to take legislative nap. As long as voting was a dream, it was doable.