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GOP's McConnell signals surrender in health care crusade

Three weeks ago, Mitch McConnell was gearing up to again try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This week, McConnell effectively surrendered.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016.

Three weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised a few eyebrows with some candid comments about his plans for the next session of Congress. Despite the Affordable Care Act's growing popularity, the Republican leader told Reuters that his party would likely try to repeal "Obamacare" if given the chance.

It would, McConnell added referring to the midterm elections, "depend on what happens in a couple weeks."

Exactly three weeks later, the Kentucky lawmaker looked at the election results and came to a very different conclusion about what's possible. The Washington Post reported:

For eight years, Republicans waged a war against Barack Obama's health-care law, holding dozens of repeal votes, filing lawsuits and branding it a dangerous government takeover.On Wednesday, they effectively surrendered.The day after crushing midterm election losses handed Democrats control of the House, GOP leaders signaled they had no appetite to make another go at shredding the signature accomplishment of Obama's presidency anytime soon.

McConnell specifically told reporters, "I think it's pretty obvious, the Democratic House is not going to be interested in that," referring to possible ACA repeal.

The Senate Republican leader added that lawmakers could tackle health care policy "on a bipartisan basis."

I know better than to expect such an outcome, but that's not crazy. Congress could, in theory, approve some fairly obvious and non-ideological fixes to the current system, which would help consumers, strengthen markets, and be politically popular.

But putting pipe dreams aside, one of the major questions in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 elections was how quickly Republicans, controlling all of the levers of federal power, would tear down the Affordable Care Act. In the immediate aftermath of the 2018 elections, those concerns are now gone.

This is not to say the broader threats are over. As we discussed the other day, the Trump administration will still take steps to further undermine "Obamacare," and a Republican judge in Texas is poised to try to gut the law any day now.

But at a minimum, the public won't have to spend the next two years wondering whether Congress will strip families of their health security.