In January 2010, less than two months before President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law without a single GOP vote, he presented Republicans with what must have seemed like a golden opportunity.
Obama would attend the annual House GOP retreat in Baltimore and open himself up to more than an hour of questioning, during which lawmakers could press him on any aspect of his agenda. With controversy swirling around health care reform, Republicans could use the occasion to poke holes in the president’s plan and perhaps even expose him as the dangerous and ill-prepared leader they’d been demonizing for the last year, if not longer.
If that was the plan, it didn’t work. For more than 80 minutes, Obama fielded aggressive questions from lawmakers on live television, pushing back against the tone of partisan hostility and offering up a pointed defense of the legislation now better known as Obamacare. Looking back, the display of candor and competence offers a stark contrast to the current health care debate going on in Washington ― which has focused specifically on undoing Obama’s hallmark legislative achievement.
As Raw Story points out, some of Obama’s best jabs at the 2010 event were against Republicans who are now in President Donald Trump’s administration. When Georgia Rep. Tom Price, now secretary of Health and Human Services, asked Obama why he wouldn’t support a GOP version of health care reform, the president told him the proposal simply wasn’t feasible.
“If you say, ‘We can offer coverage for all Americans and it won’t cost a penny,’ that’s just not true,” said Obama. “You can’t structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage and it costs nothing.”
Obama went on to say that he would be willing to consider Republican proposals so long as independent budget authorities and experts could verify that they made economic sense. The plans would have to pass a “test of realism,” he said.
“I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues, but it can’t just be political assertions that aren’t substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy,” Obama told Price.
“Otherwise, we’re going to be selling the American people a bill of goods,” Obama said. “The easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you’re going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms, we’re going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and it won’t cost anybody anything. That’s great politics; it’s just not true.”
Fox News, seemingly unpleased with the spectacle, cut away from the broadcast 20 minutes before it ended.
GOP officials would go on to admit that televising the event was a “mistake.”
A month later, Obama went before TV cameras for another bipartisan summit on health care. Once again, he invited Republicans to test him on the finer points of his health care reform package. It was clear that the president was prepared to fend off challenges to the policy, according to reports at the time. Fox News focused on the “testy” nature of some of the exchanges between the president and lawmakers, calling Obama a “prickly professor.”
Now, there’s another health care debate consuming Washington. This time, it’s Trump in the hot seat, scrambling to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. And while the president has been called a lot of things, it seems unlikely that “professor” is one of them.
With the Senate legislation crafted behind closed doors and kept secret until recently, Democrats have expressed concerns that Republicans will try to push through a bill that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted and that almost nobody, including Trump, fully understands.
Trump met with Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday, after GOP leaders announced they would delay a vote on the legislation until after the upcoming recess. One lawmaker who attended the meeting told The New York Times that they left “with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan.” The president was particularly “confused” by criticism of the legislation as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to the Times. But that’s exactly what the bill is.
In a tweet early Wednesday, however, Trump insisted he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare,” he wrote. “Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S.”
If Obama was the most knowledgable, engaged and devoted advocate for his health care reform bill, Trump’s role in the current process certainly looks different.
“If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK,” Trump told senators on Tuesday.