The Senate voted to defeat a bill on Wednesday that would simply have repealed most of Obamacare using the budget reconciliation process. There will be further debate and more opportunities to vote, but this vote was important because it has happened before.
Six of the seven Republican senators who voted "no" had supported this exact same bill two years earlier: All but Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted for it in 2015. The latest vote comes after all of them promised that they opposed Obamacare and would work to repeal it. This is especially so of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who survived a tough Tea Party election challenge in 2010 by swearing to Alaskan voters that she'd do just that.
But the Senate's naysayers might have had a point, depending on what they do next. The defeated bill was not the best vehicle for getting rid of Obamacare. Three years into the law's implementation, Obamacare has brought the individual insurance market to the brink of collapse. Insurers have lost billions of dollars and expect more big losses. Over the past three years, they have bolted out of one state market after another, to the point that some might have no carriers at all next year. Because of this, it is probably too late for cold-turkey repeal.
There are both practical and political reasons. From a political perspective, former President Barack Obama's party lost its hold on government mostly because it destabilized health insurance when the law took full effect in 2014. From a practical perspective, the law's problems have placed the market in such a precarious state that any dramatic, uncautious change now could tip it over the edge. It would dramatically harm insurance consumers and patients and invite the Left to step in with its pipedream, and all sensible people's nightmare, universal, single-payer, federal healthcare.
As we've been arguing all along, Republicans need an intelligent and well-structured bill that will get desired results. It has to bring down premiums and move the long messed-up healthcare system toward one that is consumer-based and widely accessible.
A bill like that cannot be constructed through crude dealmaking, picking up votes here and there with giveaways and concessions that would make it less effective. If the bill doesn't move us closer to a truly free market in health insurance and healthcare, it will arouse justified public anger and lead to far worse.
America's system, with its obsolete tax preferences, hidden prices, widespread reliance on insurance for even the most inexpensive basic care, and burdensome coverage mandates, is an utter mess.
Voters gave Obama a chance to clean it up because it was back in 2008, and he said he would fix it. He used false promises to sell the public a bill of goods, so it still needs fixing. Republicans now have a chance to do that, and it's not a chance they can afford to let slip by.
Sens. Murkowski, Dean Heller, Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, John McCain, and Lamar Alexander voted no yesterday, despite having voted yes on the same bill in 2015. They may have done so in recognition that cold-turkey repeal would give the system a case of the shakes so bad that it would do more damage than good. But if they keep standing in the way of reform, they will be revealed as self-important hypocrites. They would deserve punishment at election time, which could bring down their party with them.