Regardless of your take on America’s beleaguered Obamacare system, you have to admire the willingness of Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, to stand their ground on what they felt was the right way forward for a repeal.
Alexander and Corker could not have been further apart in their stances on the best way forward for the Affordable Care Act, with Alexander believing that Obamacare should not be repealed without a suitable replacement plan in place and Corker believing that it should be repealed “after a reasonable transition period.”
But both men joined a small group of Republicans who proved to be a huge thorn in the side of Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration, ultimately causing the health care debate to crumble (though it is only a matter of time before it is revived). At various points this week, both men voted against a repeal bill. In a deeply red state where many voters do not care so much about the details of the repeal, so long as Obamacare is repealed, that was not the politically expedient move to make.
Indeed, it appeared too many of their colleagues in the U.S. Senate were more interested in reporting to constituents back home that they had voted to repeal Obamacare than in paying close attention to the details. Take Texas’s Ted Cruz, for instance, if only because he was one of the vocal critics of the nay Republican voters. Repeal Obamacare and replace it immediately? Cruz was on board with that. Repeal it and replace it in two years? He was on board with that, too.
Politicians like Cruz reflected the mindset of too many Americans. And it’s that same mindset that prevailed in Tennessee two years ago, causing Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to fail.
Haslam, who is a moderate Republican in the same mold as Alexander and Corker, proposed to accept federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid program. But the measure failed to make it out of committee, and more than one state lawmaker later said that it was because of the “Obamacare” stigma that was attached to it.
There is no doubt that Obamacare has been costly for many Americans. It has succeeded in its goal of expanding insurance coverage to Americans who were previously without coverage (although that expanded coverage is looking exceedingly shaky as the marketplace nears collapse in many areas, including Tennessee). But the cost is being absorbed by Americans whose insurance is obtained through their workplace, as premiums skyrocket.
However, it seems doubtful that the replacement plan offered by Republicans would have been much of an improvement. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the plan would have left 16 million people without coverage — a figure that has been disputed by conservatives — and caused private insurance plan premiums to increase by 20%.
Judging by the feed on my social media accounts, most Tennesseans are not happy with either Alexander or Corker. And the stakes are particularly high for Corker, who faces a re-election bid next year and could find himself embroiled in a hotly-contested primary challenge against a popular opponent (Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who has floated the idea of a Senate campaign).
But, if we’re being honest, many of the voters who are upset at Corker and Alexander have no clue what the GOP’s Obamacare replacement plan entailed. They simply know that they want Obamacare repealed — no matter what.
That isn’t necessarily the best way forward. Both Corker and Alexander are on the record as being in favor of repealing Obamacare, and both voted to do so at points this week. But, sometimes, standing one’s ground is the best way forward — even if it means opposing your own party and even if it is not the politically expedient move to make.