Alfonse D'Amato

Trump’s priority No. 1 shouldn’t have been Obamacare


Last Friday, Republican leaders were forced to withdraw proposed legislation to overhaul to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Notwithstanding President Trump’s lobbying efforts, it became clear that they couldn’t pass the bill in the House of Representatives, where they have a sizable majority.

Afterward, Democrats began taking a victory lap, celebrating the Republicans’ failure to alter Obamacare in spite of the fact that they control both houses of Congress and the White House. The failure will call into question just how effective the president’s noted deal-making is.

The defeat has been seen as a major misstep by the administration and a setback to Trump’s political agenda. The president’s advisers should never have made the repeal and replacement of Obamacare his first major legislative priority. Clearly it should have been tax reform — the reduction of corporate and other taxes to stimulate the economy. Even if the House had passed the proposed health care reform, there was little, if any, chance of it passing in the Senate.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes. Trump had indicated that Obamacare was a disaster, but since the Democrats were in total opposition, Republicans should have left the bill alone and let the people just see its complete failure. The cost of health insurance continues to skyrocket, and more and more people are unable to afford it.

The administration’s No. 1 priority must be the economic health of the country, and the vast majority of our citizens would support lower tax rates, particularly on corporations, to make them more competitive with large companies overseas. Reducing taxes on middle-class taxpayers would be widely supported by the public, Democrats and Republicans alike. I believe the president has a solid opportunity to redeem his failure by moving forward as quickly as possible on tax reform and making it retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.

The Republican Party is going to encounter problems. House Speaker Paul Ryan summed up the challenge of passing a health care overhaul by saying, “Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. We’re feeling those growing pains today.”

Ryan is correct. It’s extremely hard to pass a monumental bill. But as Democrats sit back and claim a victory now, that doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is extremely flawed.

For now, it will remain intact, and Republicans will take a step back and watch it explode. Don’t let their failure to get rid of it fool you into believing that the Affordable Care Act won’t eventually encounter fatal problems.

But passing another flawed health care bill wouldn’t have helped the country, and for now the blood is on the hands of Republicans. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 56 percent of Americans disapproved of the Republican legislation, and only 17 percent supported it. The move to abandon the health care overhaul actually may have saved Trump and the Republicans from losing the majority in next year’s congressional races.

Now it’s time for the president and his party to regain the trust of the American people by tackling tax reform, an issue that everyone agrees on.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can agree that the current corporate tax system has had a detrimental effect on the economy. The tax code is counterproductive, hurts Americans and costs the government hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue it would receive if not for American corporations abandoning the United States for lower rates abroad.

This issue is a much easier sell for Congress, and is one that the entire Republican base can rally around. Friends, don’t count the president out yet. Yes, the effort on health care may have been a setback, but now the nation will see how he reacts to it. I’m sure that this setback will energize the administration, and it won’t be indecisive. Believe me, Trump will be very involved in the tax reforms that representatives and senators propose.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column?