Trump plays chicken with Congress

There’s more to President Donald Trump’s unilateral action on Obamacare and his move to “decertify” the Iran deal last week than obvious outcomes regarding policy. The president is setting a trap for members of the GOP establishment. Here’s what you need to know.

On Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal a majority of members of the Republican controlled Congress have made it abundantly clear that the threat of a veto under President Barack Obama wasn’t the sole reason for their unwillingness to legislate in a way that would make good on promises to conservative voters.

Congressional Republicans promised a repeal of Obamacare for just short of a decade, and successfully passed repeal legislation more than once under Obama only to have it vetoed. Yet, with a Republican now in the Oval Office the lawmakers can no longer seem to make progress on the repeal.

Why? Because repealing Obamacare is going to cause some serious political fallout. Even if many average Republican voters don’t realize it, lawmakers being briefed by armies of political consultants realize that a true repeal will cause massive market confusion, a certain amount of pain on Main Street and a full-on war with the insurance industry’s powerful Washington lobby.

Trump, frustrated by the inaction from frightened Republican leaders in Congress, has decided to go it alone in dismantling Obamacare “piece by piece” via executive order.

Trump began late Thursday the process of dismantling the healthcare law with a declaration that taxpayers will no longer be in the business of bailing out insurance companies via cost sharing reduction payments, which amount to about $7 billion in annual spending to pad insurers’ bottom lines.

These are the same subsidies House Republicans sued the Obama administration over and won last year. The Obama administration appealed the federal court’s ruling, however, and the GOP establishment seemingly gave up on arguing that the Obama administration usurped Congress’s role in appropriating federal money.

There’s already bipartisan legislation that would remove constitutional concerns about the payments via congressional appropriation. Thanks to Trump’s executive actions, that legislation is likely headed for a vote.

And, despite what they say about ending the subsidies, many Republicans (the same establishment lawmakers who championed the weak Obamacare reforms that have so far failed to excite conservatives promised a repeal) are likely to quietly support the deal.

When the vote happens, conservatives will have a better idea of who they can and cannot trust in the Republican Party.

Trump’s action on the Iran deal is going to force a similar reactionary vote.

Obama sealed the Iran nuclear deal largely via executive fiat, relieving Congress of the hard work of signaling to voters in any meaningful way whether they did or didn’t agree with the previous administration’s actions. Trump “decertified” the deal last week. That doesn’t mean he scrapped it altogether. He simply created a situation whereby the tenants of the agreement are cheapened unless Congress votes to formally certify the agreement he just weakened. Democrats are almost universally opposed to the president’s action, and they’re going to push such legislation. What remains to be seen is whether Republican lawmakers will vote the way they speak or allow the Obama deal to essentially remain in place despite their party’s most powerful leader saying without hesitation that it shouldn’t.

 

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