Coverage of the 2018 midterm elections has been so focused on the question of which party will win—whether Democrats will take the House and, more distantly, the Senate—that the more significant question of what the winning parties would do with the 116th Congress has been oddly overlooked.
It’s not that complicated on the Democratic side. If they pick up either of the two chambers of Congress, the president’s legislative agenda would be foreclosed and we’d have stress-free gridlock, much like the final six years of the Obama administration.
But what if Democrats come up short? What would Republicans do with a two-year extension of the unified GOP government?
A couple of fights will dominate much of the schedule. The current two-year budget agreement will expire, and there will be pressure from the conservative elements in both chambers (and the White House) not to renew the domestic spending boost they conceded to Democrats the last time around. The debt ceiling will have to be dealt with again. There will be more airy jibber-jabber about striking an infrastructure or immigration deal, leading to nothing.
The best bet for what a unified Republican government would do would be to finish its unfinished partisan business. In other words, they would try health care again.
“Many Republicans assume their party will take another stab at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act if the midterm elections go their way,” Axios reports, “even though GOP candidates aren’t making a big deal about it on the campaign trail.”
Republicans would be decently well-positioned to repeal and replace Obamacare if the midterms “go their way.” Going their way would mean they’d only lose, say, a dozen seats in the House, while picking up two or three seats in the Senate. The dozen members that they would lose wouldn’t have voted for a repeal bill in the first place, so it wouldn’t be a net-loss in the whip count. And if Republicans can hit 53 in the Senate—with, at some point, an actively voting replacement for Arizona Sen. John McCain—that would allow them to write a bill that didn’t require the votes of Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, or Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Or they might not even need to worry about Murkowski, and could manage with 52. The legislative model for repeal would be a revamped version of the Graham-Cassidy legislation—which failed in a last-ditch effort last September—that would replace Obamacare with federal block grants to the states. Murkowksi never explicitly rejected the idea but was irritated with the rush to pass it. And Axios quotes Murkowski as open to the idea of reconsidering repeal-and-replace in the next Congress.
And then, as Jonathan Chait writes, there’s the psychological factor. Republicans will feel invincible if they hold they House and expand their margin in the Senate in this political environment. They will have weathered the worst and be left standing. They could quickly repeal Obamacare early in the next Congress before watching it fade from the conversation as the presidential election, and what’s certain to be a sloppy Democratic primary, dominates the consciousness.
You should bank on Republicans making another all-out effort to repeal Obamacare if they retain control of Congress. What else are they going to do?
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary and criticism you won’t find anywhere else.Join Slate Plus