On Monday morning, President Trump laid out his new strategy for moving toward repeal and replacement of Obamacare: undercutting it. He explained his plan in a tweet:
Now, forcing Congress to purchase insurance through the Obamacare exchanges isn’t a bad idea – it at least forces our representatives to live with the system they’ve created. But the notion that the president should aim at “hurting the insurance companies” is foolish: there is no way to “hurt” the insurance companies without also hurting those they provide insurance. The only factor keeping insurance prices within reason is the subsidies provided by the government; thanks to Obamacare’s regulations, the costs for coverage have skyrocketed, which is why so many insurance companies have dropped out of the Obamacare exchanges altogether even with the subsidies.
If Trump’s plan is to allow Obamacare to collapse by removing its subsidies, he shouldn’t be spilling that publicly. That’s just rotten politics. When President Obama attempted to pressure Congress into ending the government shutdown in 2013, he closed open air war memorials and national parks – superfluous measures designed to increase the pain of the American people. But he didn’t announce that’s what he was doing. He simply did it, and let Americans believe that it wasn’t motivated animus for them, it was the natural result of a government shutdown.
That’s what Trump should be doing, because that’s also true. He should be stating that Obamacare subsidies are illegal, and that no matter what the Supreme Court states, Obamacare law never allowed the executive branch to unilaterally rewrite law. He should then use the bully pulpit to push for removal of regulations on the Obamacare markets, and if he truly wants to push hard, force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to do away with the filibuster in order to pare back Obamacare regulations.
Instead, Trump is actually making an argument in favor of single-payer healthcare. If insurance companies are the bad guys, as Trump seems to be suggesting, then why not simply nationalize the process? If they’re squirreling away cash, why not regulate them even more heavily? This is the problem with Trump’s politics generally: he wants to achieve short-term ends with the handiest tool available, which often happens to be rhetoric that forwards the Left’s agenda. Then, even if he doesn’t achieve those ends, the Leftist argument has been forwarded.
Beyond that, Trump’s now-obvious intention to “hurt” the insurance companies could bear nasty electoral fruit, given that he is actually moving to own Obamacare premium increases – the Left will blame Trump for depriving insurance companies of subsidies.
So, this is bad strategy. By all means, Trump should move to place responsibility with states to subsidize their insurance schemes if they seek to do so. But he should be doing so quietly and on the basis of the law, not a self-stated fit of pique at insurance companies.