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The World This Week: Obamacare Lives as Trumpcare Dies

By failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Republicans have put into question their ability to govern the US.

On March 22, a terror attack in Westminster left at least four dead and more than 40 injured. Khalid Masood, a 52-year old who had spent time in prison for violence, became the latest criminal-turned-jihadist to unleash carnage in London outside the United Kingdom’s iconic parliament. As per the BBC, this is a trend across Europe. Far too many perpetrators of terrorist attacks have turned out to have criminal pasts.

In the midst of this attack, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood dashed out to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a wounded policeman who has since died of the injuries he sustained. Ellwood is a former officer whose brother died in the 2002 Bali bombings and has been hailed as a hero.

In fact, the British response to the bombings was quite heroic. With stereotypical sang-froid, the Brits “jolly well carry on.” Stephen Chan, who used this phrase in the title of his article at Fair Observer, rightly points out that the UK has a “long history of living with violence,” and it responds with a maturity to such attacks that Americans like Donald Trump Jr. could do well to acquire. Trump Jr. had attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan for saying in the past that terror attacks were “part and parcel of living in a big city.”

Khan made this comment in September 2016. Trump Jr. sent out a tweet after the Westminster attack, linking Khan’s comment, to give an impression that London’s Muslim mayor was soft on terror if not sympathetic to it. Such classic Americano skullduggery infuriated and outraged many Brits. One British member of parliament (MP) called Trump Jr. a “disgrace” for exploiting London’s tragedy for petty political gain. As if to prove that the British can carry on with business as usual, tens of thousands took to London’s streets in an anti-Brexit march barely 48 hours after the attack.

As if London’s terror attack was not enough, a former Russian lawmaker was killed in Ukraine. Denis Voronenkov was shot in broad daylight on a busy street in Kiev. Once, Voronenkov had supported Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he made a U-turn after fleeing to Kiev in 2016 and compared Putin’s Russia with Nazi Germany. Days before his death, Voronenkov admitted to The Washington Post that he feared for his life. His death continues a long tradition of Putin’s critics meeting mysterious deaths long before illness or old age come calling. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Voronenkov’s assassination “an act of state terrorism by Russia.” Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin called the accusations absurd.

TRUMP FORGETS THE ART OF THE DEAL

Despite such bloodcurdling events, Donald Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare takes center stage this week. After much drama, Republican leaders pulled out a bill in the US Congress that was supposed to reform the ailing American health care system.

Trump railed against Obamacare like a broken record throughout his campaign. He constantly crowed that Obamacare was “a total disaster” that did not work. He vowed that he would “repeal and replace” it with “something terrific.”

To be fair to Trump, he tried. Together with Speaker Paul Ryan, the president proposed a bill that would repeal and replace the much maligned Obamacare. Even while doing so, Trump and Ryan retained many of Obamacare’s features. Their bill maintained the expansion in Medicare until January 1, 2020. It did not do away with the ban on discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. The bill also persisted with the provision under Obamacare that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ plan till they turn 26.

Of course, Trump and Ryan proposed many changes as well. The bill, which this author calls Trumpcare, did away with a tax on people who did not purchase health care. It cut Medicare benefits for those with low incomes. More importantly, Trumpcare allowed insurers to raise premiums for older people and lowered tax credits that help people pay medical bills.

Trumpcare was drafted in a hurry and it failed to address two fundamental questions. First, how many people would it cover? Second, how much would it cost?

Yet one thing was very clear. Trumpcare would have benefited people who are healthy and on a high income, while disadvantaging those who are unhealthy and on a low income. Even Republicans in the House of Representatives baulked at voting for it. For moderates, it cut health coverage too severely. For conservatives, the changes did not go far enough. Trump huffed and puffed. He made threats and promises. He warned of dire consequences, and yet legislators from his own party ignored him.

For months during his campaign, Trump trumpeted his skill as a dealmaker. With much braggadocio, he promised the moon to his supporters. While running his casinos, beauty pageants, universities, reality TV shows and real estate businesses, he made deals with self-interested actors who were all chasing a profit. Some of these deals turned out to be disastrous for his customers and contractors, but that is the nature of the Anglo-Saxon caveat emptor business world.

In office, President Trump has quickly found that the art of the deal in democracy is not quite as simple as it is in business. As this author posited in the October 9, 2016, edition of The World This Week, “individuals and interest groups in societies often have divergent and conflicting interests.” Therefore, “managing conflicts and balancing interests is an essential part of leading a nation.” In a large and diverse country like the United States, this requires much tact and considerable patience. To say that Trump lacks both qualities would be an understatement. The result is that Trumpcare is now dead as a dodo.

BAD FOR TRUMP, WORSE FOR RYAN AND DISASTER FOR REPUBLICANS

So far, the Trump presidency reeks of “chaos, crisis and confusion.” On March 17, he refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Earlier, he bizarrely accused former President Barack Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower during the election. Trump’s revised executive order to stop travel into the US from several Muslim-majority countries has failed to get past the courts. While striking down Trump’s order, the judge scathingly remarked: “The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable.”

donate to nonprofit media organizationsEmbarrassingly for Trump, the Republicans command a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This has happened for the first time in 11 years. More importantly, Republicans have damned Obamacare from the day of its inception. Sarah Palin railed against Obamacare for instituting “death panels” that PolitiFact deemed to be the 2009 lie of the year. That did not matter much, though, because her lie fired up Fox News and the Republican base.

Given such rancor against Obamacare, one would think that coming up with something better might have been the first item on the Republican to do list. They did try and Trump kept claiming that Republicans were coming together to pass the bill. Instead, moderates and conservatives failed to unite and agree upon an alternative.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher had warned that voting Trumpcare down would be “neutering Trump” and bolstering his opponents. He told Reuters: “You don’t cut the balls off a bull and then expect that he can go out and get the job done. This will emasculate Trump and we can’t do that … If we bring this down now, Trump will have lost all of his leverage to pass whatever bill it is, whether it’s the tax bill or whatever reforms that he wants.” Rohrabacher was absolutely correct. Trump has been a bull in a china shop. Now, he has lost his balls.

Even a castrated Trump has emerged better off than Speaker Ryan. This former fitness trainer has not proved to be so hot on the floor of the House. Ryan championed the bill. He even went down on one knee to plead with 83-year-old Congressman Don Young, the longest-serving Republican in Congress. Yet all of Ryan’s attempts at charm and menace came to naught.

Historically, the speaker of the House has a bag of goodies and a big stick. Ryan can appoint congressmen to committees, direct party funds to their campaigns and put his back behind their legislative priorities. Ryan also sets the rules of the debate in the House. Keeping the speaker in good humor has its benefits, and yet they were not enough to convince many moderate and most conservative congressmen to vote for Trumpcare. In particular, Ryan was taken hostage by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, comprising merely 29 members in a House with 435 congressmen, who wrung major concessions out of him before hanging the speaker out to dry.

Victory over Trumpcare will embolden congressmen. Now, they will extract their pound of flesh from Ryan. Future legislative battles will be much fiercer because Ryan’s opponents have now tasted blood. To be fair, the speaker was well aware this vote was momentous. He admitted it was a “disappointing day” and “doing big things is hard.” He candidly observed: “We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” but getting “people to agree with each other in how we do things” is proving to be supremely difficult.

Yet this is exactly what a speaker is supposed to do. Ryan has demonstrated that he has no authority over his party members. While Trump might be a bull who has just been castrated, Ryan has proved himself to be a muscular mule that is utterly impotent.

Finally, the failure of Trumpcare is an unmitigated disaster for the Republicans. During the campaign itself, the party had proved to be a house divided. Trump’s triumph in the primaries amounted to, what the erudite Peter Isackson terms, a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.  All that unified this party was blind opposition to Obama. With the once “skinny kid with a funny name” out of the White House, the glue that stuck disparate Republicans together is now running thin.

The Grand Old Party (GOP) faces a big question now that it can no longer spew venom at Obama. What does it stand for?

The answer is complicated as it is for Democrats. They have yet to jettison jaded Nancy Pelosi even after voters gave Hillary Clinton a bloody nose. The left led by Bernie Sanders uneasily cohabits with Clintonistas who might be down but are not out.

In the GOP, chasms run deep and wide. Conservatives want to pare down taxes and welfare to the bare minimum. Moderates worry about the vulnerable and are not willing to throw the less fortunate on the streets. As this author pointed out in the July 31, 2016, edition of The World This Week, the two-party system is starting to crack. Neither party can agree upon the right mix of rights and responsibilities for different sections of society. Neither party is clear about what it stands for.

The splintering of both parties and their lack of vision for the future does not affect the Democrats for now. They have the luxury of merely opposing the Republicans for a while. In contrast, the GOP is now in power and has to govern. Increasing inequality, falling social mobility, rising health care costs, fewer jobs, falling wages and convoluted taxes are making the land of sunny optimism more than a touch nervous about the future. Even if they do little, Republicans must be seen as doing something to tackle issues that affect most Americans.

Instead, the GOP has just demonstrated that it is far too divided to change the very law it has excoriated for years. To quote Ryan, “Obamacare is the law of the land” and Americans will be “living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.” It is clear that the Republicans have fallen off the saddle. It will not be easy to get back onto it.

*[You can receive “The World This Week” directly in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list. Simply visit Fair Observer and enter your email address in the space provided. Meanwhile, please find below five of our finest articles for the week.]


Terror in London: We Jolly Well Carry On

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London’s response to the latest terrorist attack is shaped by Britain’s long history of living with violence.

The latest terror incident in London took place in the early afternoon of 22 March, exactly a year after the attacks in Brussels. It seems that anniversaries are now part of the terror repertoire. But almost immediately, even while Westminster—the site of UK Parliament—was in lockdown, a notice circulated widely, making its way from the internet to the House of Commons: “All terrorists are politely reminded THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea/And jolly well carry on/Thank you.”

The fact that the sign was not actually written by the often-witty London Underground staff is almost meaningless behind the message embraced by the city coming to terms with the most recent act of violence. If the spirit of calm, stiff upper lip was expected, what did rankle Londoners was Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter jibe… Read more


Defeating Systemic Corruption: Colombia’s Next Major Challenge

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If corruption is not eradicated to level the political playing field, the systemically flawed democratic process will destroy any prospects of a lasting peace in Colombia.

Colombia’s big city streets are full of ambulant vendors offering you anything from chewing gum to a single cigarette to prepaid cell phone minutes. Walking through Bogota’s roads during the first weeks of 2017, you could also purchase a small booklet detailing the new public conduct code. For the first time in over two decades, the government has updated the code that now includes significant fines for offenses such as loitering and jaywalking.

This new reality for the average Colombian contrasts starkly with the political corruption currently pervading the government, so it is not just average Colombians who need to revise their code of public conduct. Today, international corruption scandals such as those disclosed in the Panama Papers have stained the reputation and credibility of the highest echelons of the Colombian political… Read more


In Exile in Trump’s America

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In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Sepideh Jodeyri, a poet who fled Iran for opposing the Islamic Republic.

US President Donald Trump came to power on a wave of anti-immigration, anti-Muslim populist rhetoric. Having aggressively targeted illegal immigrants coming into the country, with promises to build a physical wall to keep them out, the Trump team’s focus on the threat of Islamist terrorism was the rallying cry of his election campaign.

“Islam hates us” is a sentiment that the White House is trying to mask in legalese, but the administration’s policy proposals hardly cover up an underlying Islamophobia. On January 27—Holocaust Memorial Day—Trump signed the first executive order that placed a temporary ban on all arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. What became known as the “Muslim Ban” provoked a mass outcry across the country, with federal courts overturning both its first and second versions… Read more


King Salman’s Return to Brunei Two Decades Later

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Saudi Arabia and Brunei are likely to bring their bilateral relationship to new heights as both nations face the challenge of transforming their economies away from oil and gas.

Earlier this month, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud became the first Saudi monarch to visit the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, spending one day in this Southeast Asian Muslim-majority country 20 years after his first visit as the then-governor of Riyadh. As part of his three-week Asia tour, King Salman went to Brunei as well as China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and the Maldives, with the expressed intention to boost the kingdom’s investment, commercial, security and cultural relations with Asian states, including four Muslim-majority nations. Although his visit to the monarchy in Borneo was brief, it was significant for several reasons.

The Saudi king met with Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the sultan of Brunei, who also serves as prime minister, finance minister, defense minister and supreme commander of the armed… Read more


After NAFTA: New Trade Opportunities for Mexico

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Mexico currently faces tough negotiations with the United States over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

At the beginning of January 2017, Ford canceled plans to build a $1.6-billion car factory in San Luis Potosí, following criticisms by then President-elect Donald Trump. The project was expected to generate 2,800 jobs. Whereas it took some 10 years to negotiate and enforce a mechanism to strengthen commercial bonds between Canada, the United States and Mexico, today, after 23 years in existence, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may be overrun in just a couple of months.

After US President Donald Trump presented a series of accusations against the Mexican government taking advantage of the treaty clauses, his counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, announced at the beginning of February that no asymmetric negotiations would be accepted. In parallel, the US government started driving investment out of Mexico through different threat mechanisms that include the announcement of potential… Read more

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore