Feehery: Mend it, don’t end it

Feehery: Mend it, don’t end it
© Greg Nash

In July of 1995, at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision on the volatile issue of affirmative action, President Clinton gave a speech, where he deftly defended the concept of racial set-asides in hiring with a memorable phrase, “Mend it, but don’t end it.”

For Clinton, who was born and raised in the South, but who also became known in his two-terms as president as “America’s first black president,” it was real balancing act. Affirmative action, as a policy, becomes especially unpopular with many white Americans in a slowing economy, and unlike his wife, Clinton was not ready to write off the bubbas that were still a significant part of the Democratic coalition and carried him to his election in 1992, and his subsequent reelection in 1996.

“Mend it, but don’t end it” should be the mantra for Senate Republicans as the figure how to proceed on healthcare reform in the next several months. And that mantra should apply to both the Affordable Care Act and the American Health Care Act.

I know that Republicans campaigned on repealing ObamaCare and then replacing it. Democrats, on the other hand, campaigned on keeping President Obama’s signature law in place, while acknowledging that there continues to be significant problem with it.

The problem for the GOP is that without some Democratic help, getting major revisions to ObamaCare seems unlikely. Sure, they could probably repeal chunks of the ACA under a reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes, but getting a coherent law that adequately addresses the concerns of millions of Americans and works to stabilize an already unstable health insurance market seems unlikely.

The challenge for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.) is to come up with a process and ultimately a product that unites his caucus, attracts vulnerable Democrats and can pass the House. That seems like a tall order, given the difficulty that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE (R-Wis.) had in getting the AHCA out of the House and how unpopular that bill has turned out to be.

Conceding that some elements of ObamaCare might survive might make it easier for Republicans to attract the support of Democrats who live in red states but fear a primary challenge from the left. Even Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration White House: Trump remarks didn't derail shutdown talks Schumer defends Durbin after GOP senator questions account of Trump meeting MORE (D-N.Y.) has acknowledged that the ACA has some significant flaws that need fixing.

The AHCA was an achievement for a fractious GOP House caucus. As former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) said earlier this year, Republicans never agree on healthcare policy, and the fact that Ryan and President Trump convinced a majority to support a comprehensive replacement to ObamaCare is impressive. But Republicans will have to work hard to insure that AHCA is no Pyrrhic victory. That will require that the Senate pass something more defensible, more explainable and with bipartisan support.

That should make the concept of mending ObamaCare but not ending it more palatable.

While it is unlikely that one controversial vote in the House will cost Republicans their majority, tough votes can. This one can seriously weaken a member’s standing with their constituents.

When Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a moderate Democrat from Pennsylvania, proved to be the deciding vote for the first Clinton budget, which included a wildly unpopular BTU tax, Republicans were quick to serenade her with chants of “Goodbye Marjorie.” But she had plenty of the votes and an unpopular White House that conspired to seal her fate.

For Republicans, they have to help themselves and help their president by getting solid accomplishments that prove that they can govern. Repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with the AHCA as currently crafted seems unrealistic to me. Mending the problems of ObamaCare with a commonsense approach that eases the concerns of the middle of America and attracts some Democratic votes is a safer approach. 

Feehery is partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.