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What Is Paul Ryan Doing?

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RyanCare has generated intense opposition from those who hate it because it takes health insurance away from millions of people to pay for upper-class tax cuts. But RyanCare has also gone over like a lead zeppelin among many members of the faction who do think it’s a good idea to take health insurance away from millions of people to pay for upper-class tax cuts. While some of the opposition from the right was inevitable, it’s strange that he couldn’t get conservative think tanks onboard. One possibility is that he’s not a competent legislative leader. Another possibility is that he’s fine with repeal failing:

What explains the depth of conservative opposition? One possibility is that we should, as Marco Rubio might put it, dispel with the myth that Paul Ryan knows what he’s doing. While some grumbling from House conservatives was inevitable, it’s odd that he couldn’t get buy-in from conservative organizations for a replacement plan. On its face, everything about this botched rollout seems like gross political incompetence.

Another, and perhaps more plausible, answer is that Ryan couldn’t possibly be this inept. He didn’t get his allies on board for a simple reason: He doesn’t actually want any major repeal plan to pass.

This isn’t to say that Ryan would not, all things being equal, like to kill the Affordable Care Act. His entire political career has been devoted to attacking programs for the poor to pay for upper-class tax cuts. But now passing and maintaining tax cuts and achieving other crucial objectives means Republicans must keep control of Congress — and that’s where ACA repeal becomes a major political liability.

Now that it’s being seriously threatened, the ACA is popular. And as Greg Sargent of The Washington Post explains, passing RyanCare would almost certainly be a political disaster in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Marginal voters might favor “small government” and oppose the “government takeover of health care” in the abstract, but that doesn’t mean they won’t object to having their coverage taken away or made substantially worse.

Passing a health care bill that takes coverage away from voters would also complicate what will already be a difficult political situation for the Republicans. They’ve benefited from having the opposition control the White House during a time of gridlock, but now the shoe is on the other foot. The out party generally fares better in midterm elections to begin with. Even worse for Republicans, the popularity of the president is the best predictor of how the party will fare in congressional elections. And while Donald Trump was able to eke out an Electoral College win with a lot of help from an unpopular opponent and the FBI, he remains a very unpopular figure.

Whether Ryan is bad at his job or has already decided to bail out, the key point is that getting the votes for his cyanide sandwich is going to be very difficult. Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, but the chance for a yoooge substantive and political win is definitely there.

…it’s also hard to explain what McConnell is doing if he actually wants RyanCare to pass, and unlike Ryan we can be confident he knows what he’s doing as a legislative mechanic.

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