Staten Island's Republican Congressman Suddenly Not So Eager to Repeal Obamacare

Staten Island Republican Congressman Dan Donovan
Staten Island Republican Congressman Dan Donovan

Pity the poor congressional Republicans. They just don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

For eight years, they clung to the safety blanket of Barack Obama. As voters in their districts railed against the communist Muslim in the White House, Republicans could promise to do their bidding, voting repeatedly to scrap the Affordable Care Act, the flawed but very real achievement of Obama’s presidency.

House Republicans would vote to repeal Obamacare more than sixty times, building party discipline and shoring up support at home while wasting everyone else’s time. They always knew Obama would come to their rescue with a veto.

After getting elected to an open congressional seat on Staten Island, Dan Donovan got in on the act. The Republican gleefully voted in January 2016 to repeal the ACA. "Obamacare just isn’t working," Donovan said at the time. "Middle class families in Staten Island and South Brooklyn are already burdened with some of the highest costs of living in the country."

Donovan, ever the good Republican soldier, knew his vote was for show. Obama was waiting with his veto pen.

A year later, Donald Trump is president and Donovan, like the rest of his colleagues, has learned that the Obamacare Kabuki theater of the last eight years is over. "I will not vote for anything that pulls the rug out from beneath people's feet," he recently told the Staten Island Advance, affirming that he would no longer take votes like the one he took last January.

Donovan, who represents a Staten Island district that also includes a sliver of southern Brooklyn, has never been known for his courage. He failed to secure an indictment in the Eric Garner chokehold case when he served as Staten Island’s district attorney. He’s yet to hold a town hall in his district since Trump became president, enraging residents who would love to see Staten Island’s pathetic Democratic machine field a competitive candidate against him in 2018.

Donovan surely realizes by now how ludicrous his vote to repeal Obamacare really was. The law is imperfect — deductibles are too high, subsidies are too low and insurers are fleeing the marketplace in certain states — but fixable. Nihilistic Republicans, schooled to playact as rebels and do little else, have no interest in policy.

John Boehner, the former House speaker, laughed off the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously, mocking his old colleagues for failing to produce a substantive alternative.

"In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like," Boehner said at a recent panel discussion. "Not once."

Donovan’s healthcare solutions are Pollyannaish at best, disingenuous at worst. He wants to retain Obamacare’s most popular provisions: letting people stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26 and requiring insurers to cover preexisting conditions. He also wants to scrap the individual mandate while somehow making healthcare cheaper. This is impossible.

Forcing people to buy health insurance helps control costs. If or when the mandate disappears, and the government still lets the sickest people access plans while allowing some of the healthiest (those under 26) avoid the marketplace altogether, costs will be stratospheric.

And if the federal government rescinds the funds it doled out to states for Medicaid expansions, budget holes in New York and elsewhere will be blown open. Absolutely nothing will be cheaper.

If Donovan believes the mandate is onerous, why not back a public option to compete with private insurers? It doesn’t amount to that dreaded "government control" of healthcare because it’s an option, not a requirement. In most industrialized nations, public healthcare is readily available but not forced on everyone. People who want private plans can still get them.

Other possibilities Republicans like Donovan would never consider include increasing federal subsidies or raising the income threshold for individuals to qualify for Medicaid. The government could also simply force healthy twenty-one-year-olds to buy health insurance.

In a statement to the Voice, Congressman Donovan’s communications director, Patrick Ryan, categorized the previous Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare as "largely symbolic."

"Thankfully, a new President occupies the Oval Office, and Congress has a real opportunity to reform a system that forces many families to purchase health coverage they can't even afford to use. The overarching goal is to help those who Obamacare has harmed while not harming those who the law has helped," Ryan said. "Congressman Donovan's responsible commitment to not vote to pull the rug out from people deserves praise, not twisted logic to find fault at every turn."

Just about every American paying even vague attention to this oncoming train wreck knows that no serious plan has been put forth to replace Obamacare. Donovan surely isn’t cooking one up. As uncertainty reigns, skittish insurance companies will struggle to adjust to this reality and hike their premiums more, justifying misplaced Republican outrage. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy that might just please Trump.

Yet Donovan and Trump will ultimately have to own the inevitable failure of a true repeal, if it ever goes forward. Trump will face a polarized nation in 2020, hoping his neat trick of sweeping Midwestern states by miniscule margins somehow repeats itself.

And Donovan, representing a district that voted for Obama in 2012 before swinging to Trump in 2016, must pray Democrats and independents never get too disgruntled or too organized. Otherwise, he might have a real election on his hands.


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