Democrats these days must feel like Michael Dukakis, as famously played by Jon Lovitz in a debate with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush on “Saturday Night Live” when he said, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
Less than a week after losing four special elections they thought they could win, based on President Donald Trump’s plunging approvals with swing voters, Democrats faced a new Senate Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Politically speaking and not medically, Democrats can hardly believe their good fortune. The Grand Old Party’s new Senate health care plan cuts taxes on the wealthy and raises costs on the poor and middle class. The plan appears to be perfectly designed for people who never expect to need a good health care plan.
It was jaw-dropping to see House Republicans happily produce a plan that the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would cause an estimated 24 million Americans to lose their insurance over the next decade. The Senate plan is slightly more humane. The CBO says only 22 million would lose their insurance over the same period. That’s less of a disaster but still a disaster.
Yet most Republican senators - and no Democrats - are OK with crossing their fingers and hoping their party does not face a backlash in 2018 and 2020.
That’s apparently OK with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans. They boast not that their version of Trumpcare will offer better coverage but only that it will cut federal spending by $321 billion during the decade. That’s $202 billion more than the House plan would save.
That’s just fine with the deficit hawks who pat themselves on the back for saving money by taking health insurance away from children and families.
But it’s not OK with Democrats, who uniformly oppose the measure, and moderate Republicans senators, at least four of whom said within hours of the CBO report that they would vote against even holding a debate on it.
As in the House, which also passed an Obamacare replacement bill with no Democratic support, Republicans seem to be entirely out of practice at creating programs to help people.
That’s a shame because there are numerous thoughtful Republicans and other conservatives who still are coming up with ideas like tax credits, wage subsidies and vouchers for housing and schooling and other services. They’re talking about market-driven ideas that provide incentives to help low-income people to help themselves.
President Barack Obama’s ACA is itself based on a plan created in the conservative Heritage Foundation and enacted by Republican Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts.
By carving out a middle ground between the status quo and the single-payer option that Sen. Bernie Sanders - among many others - calls “Medicare for all,” Obama thought he would be able to build a new consensus based on mutual compromise.
Oh, yeah. Compromise. I’m old enough to remember when congressional lawmakers did that a lot. Today we have a Congress run by Republicans who have too hard of a time achieving compromise in their own ranks to even try to negotiate with Democrats.
That’s too bad because both parties knew the ACA, like any large and complex legislation, was far from perfect. Obama had hoped improvements could be legislated after passage, as they were after the creation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But those programs were created by Democratic presidents with Democratic majorities in Congress. Today we have a Republican Congress that has been way too focused on repealing Obamacare to worry much about how to replace it.
GOP leaders also seem tone deaf and clueless to big shifts in public attitudes that increasingly favor government health care, now that it appears to be in serious jeopardy of repeal. A January poll by Pew Research Center, for example, found 60 percent of Americans say the government should responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38 percent who say it shouldn’t.
Yet Democrats seem remarkably lax about getting ahead of the public’s shifting mood. Perhaps they have been too consumed with waiting and watching to see where probes of President Trump’s Russian connection will lead.
Meanwhile, anxious and angry swing voters are looking for ACA improvements more than repeal. They don’t need two out-of-touch parties. One is more than enough.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.