Skip to navigationSkip to content

Donald Trump’s answer to Obamacare has failed spectacularly

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Poorly planned.
By Heather Timmons
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The US House of Representatives has pulled a bill to repeal and replace “Obamacare”—a key part of Donald Trump’s election campaign—due to lack of support on Friday.

“We came really close today, but we came up short,” House speaker Paul Ryan said during a press conference. “This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard.”

After the bill was pulled, Trump blamed Democrats, even though the bill only needed a majority of the House’s 435 seats to pass, and Republicans control 237 of them.  “With no Democrats on board we couldn’t get there,” Trump said. “Obamacare unfortunately will explode, it is going to have a very bad year. I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because they own Obamacare, they own it.”

At 3:30pm today, as representatives were delivering their last short fiery speeches for and against the bill, the House announced an unexpected recess. Robert Costa, a Washington Post reporter, said Trump told him it had been pulled.

Hours before the vote, Ryan traveled to the White House to confer with the president. Ryan said he advised the president to pull the bill. “Obamacare is the law of the land,” Ryan said later. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Trump pledged before the US election that he would craft “much better health care, at a much less expensive cost.” He said in October that “decades of failure in Washington, and decades of special interest dealing, must come to an end.

But what he and Ryan crafted was a healthcare bill that cut benefits and coverage for the poor so deeply, while aiding the rich and insurance companies so blatantly, that it was quickly dubbed a “transfer of wealth” from poor to rich.

At the very last minute, the White House inserted its most draconian change: The bill would let states decide whether or not to cover essential health services, from hospitalization to pregnancy.

More than a decade ago, president George W. Bush faced a similar debacle when he made social security reform his leading issue during his second term, and started pushing private retirement accounts instead.

A funny thing happened. The more Bush discussed the idea in speeches around the country, the less popular it became. As the Brookings Institution writes, ”Public disapproval of President Bush’s handling of Social Security rose by 16 points from 48 to 64%–between his State of the Union address and June.” The entire initiative was scrapped.

This year, as Republicans began talking about the “nightmare” and “disaster” that was Obamacare, and their plan to replace it, Obamacare’s popularity hit a record high.

Even before the vote, it was clear that Trump hoped to wash his hands of the process as soon as possible. “Frankly at this point it’s not a question of negotiating any more,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday. “The president understands this is it.”

Trump could turn to immigration, the border wall, and tax reform, Spicer said. “There are so many other things he wants to get done,” Spicer said.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.