At the frazzled conclusion of the seven-year Republican quest to repeal Obamacare, Senate leaders and President Trump are resorting to a simple message: You have to do it.
"Inaction is not an option, and frankly, I don't think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan," Trump told Republican senators as they met for lunch at the White House.
The Republican ambitions suffered a major setback Monday when four senators refused to vote for their party's bill. A backup plan, to partially repeal the health care law without replacing it, also lacks the votes. Yet Mitch McConnell is still trying to pass something, leaning on two arguments: Obamacare is failing, and Republicans promised for seven years that they would repeal and replace it.
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Which is politically worse for Republicans — failing to pass this health bill or actually passing it?
But Obamacare, while imperfect, isn't failing. And the argument that even passing a devastatingly unpopular bill is better than doing nothing doesn't hold up, based on the available political science. Recent research suggests that for political parties that take power, overreaching — going too far in imposing their ideological preferences — is a bigger threat.
No single issue will define next year's election or the one after that. Right now, the American economy is in relatively good shape, yet Trump's approval rating is dismal. Those variables have a longer track record of driving votes than health care.
But both parties are threatening to make health care a defining issue of next year's election. Whether they squabble over a deeply unpopular new law — or Republicans' failure to pass one — will be decided in the coming days.