BY JONATHAN BERNSTEIN
Republicans will probably take a vote on Obamacare repeal in the 116th Congress next year if they get the chance. But I wouldn’t count on it actually passing and getting signed into law. If Republicans do retain control in the midterm elections, I expect the next Congress will look an awful lot like this one.
Commentator Jonathan Chait makes a good point: If Republicans do manage to hold on to their majorities in both chambers of Congress, expect them to have learned that they should ignore any polls that show their policy choices are unpopular. After all, all political parties have a tendency to believe that advocating the policies they support is also good electoral politics. And parties that have just won an election — and I agree that Republicans will count it as a win even if they keep their majorities even by the tiniest margin — almost always take it as proof that everything they have done recently was absolutely correct.
Of course Republicans didn’t successfully repeal Obamacare, let alone replace it, in the current Congress. Copying what they did in the past would lead them to take votes on the Affordable Care Act but not actually pass anything major.
Yes, House Republicans did pass something last year — that was the bill that President Donald Trump later called “mean.” And the Senate did come within a vote of passing something, with John McCain casting a dramatic vote against it. Trump loves to tell the story. What’s less clear is what would have happened had McCain voted for the bill. Most Republican senators vowed they were going to go to conference, and that they were just supporting the measure they were voting for in order to keep the process moving. But it’s not even entirely clear that Republican senators wanted the bill they supported to pass.
The truth is the same as it’s been since 2010: There is no Republican “replace” option that the whole party supports and that would have a reasonable chance of working if they attempted to implement it. That’s no guarantee they wouldn’t pass something anyway. But it seems just as likely that the lesson they would learn from a good 2018 election is that gradual attacks on the Affordable Care Act were the winning strategy. That’s not likely to be an accurate read of an election in which Republicans lose seats but not their majorities, but it could very likely be how they read it nonetheless.
What I do think is very likely if unified Republican government continues is another tax cut. That’s always a top Republican priority, and it will be (again, whether it’s accurate or not) very easy to attribute an election victory to the only big piece of legislation that they have passed into law.
It’s also fairly likely that spending will increase, with the logical (or at least politically feasible) compromise between increased spending on Republican priorities and Democratic priorities always being: both. Yes, that means the most likely policy outcome of continued Republican government would be extremely large federal budget deficits.
Other than that, I wouldn’t expect very much at all. The modern Republican Party isn’t really built for legislating, and there’s no sign at all of their president learning to be a helpful partner in getting things passed. In other words, unless something changes, expect very little if Republicans do get another chance. That would probably be the case even if they manage to increase their Senate majority and maintain a good-sized margin in the House.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.