The Republicans in the House finally did what they said they wanted to come to Washington to do. They voted Thursday to repeal Obamacare, but by the slimmest of margins. Speaker Paul Ryan needed 216 votes and he turned out 217.
Now the legislation goes to the Senate, where the legislation will be cut, trimmed, sanded and polished to be sent back to the House for a concurring vote, which it might not get. Still, if Thursday's work was not quite the end, or even the beginning of the end, as Winston Churchill said of another government project at dusk on D-Day, it was the end of the beginning.
Whatever it may turn out to be, President Trump was full of gratitude and optimism, even if manufactured optimism. "Make no mistake," he said after the calling of the House roll. "This is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare. Make no mistake about it. Make no mistake."
Well, not quite all of that. Repeal, but hardly a replacement. That must wait for the Senate, where sloth and slack are often sold as thoughtful deliberation. A United States senator, full of gas and self-importance, might be the only man(or woman) who would sit down on a red-hot stove and give the idea of getting up much due deliberation.
But the Thursday beginning was what the president and his party needed to get up a head of steam for the fights ahead. The speaker showed a bit of bravery (or foolhardiness) by calling up the legislation for a vote. Losing a second vote on Obamacare repeal was a prospect too awful to contemplate. Failure would have earned the men and women on Capitol Hill the undisputed title of "the do-nothing Congress," as Harry Truman famously called a predecessor Congress.
Everyone is watching. "If, after voters delivered control of Congress to them in 2016, these same Republicans can't - or will not - produce an ObamaCare reform," observes Dan Henninger in The Wall Street Journal, "those voters may reasonably ask in 2018: Why do we need these people? What is a Republican for? Even by current bread-and-circuses standards, the GOP elephants are losing their entertainment value."
Tweaks and even substantial changes lie ahead for the legislation. Some of them will no doubt improve the repeal. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, says the legislation "should be viewed with caution," and he's right, if only because everything Congress does should be viewed with caution. Mr. Graham is famous for caution, skepticism of his party and forever blowing hot and cold, usually waiting for cues from John McCain of Arizona. He cites limited time for debates and "a rushed process."
Senators, unlike plumbers, airline pilots and brain surgeons, never see a crisis that can't be dealt with by sloth and slack. First reactions of other Republican senators, like Dean Heller of Nevada ("the bill falls short") and Rob Portman of Ohio ("I've already made clear that I don't support the House legislation as currently constructed"), show that work on repeal-and-replace has only just begun.
It's not just Republicans eager to make further trouble for the White House, which needs a substantial triumph to build momentum for hard times ahead. The vote in the House showed not a single Democrat voting for repeal, and the prospect in the Senate is equally grim for the White House and fans of repeal.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democratic minority, was full of mock concern and solicitude for the enemy to whom he gives no quarter. In the first hour after the House vote, he urged his Republican colleagues to "refuse to follow [your] House colleagues over a cliff" and "work on bipartisan reforms to health care instead."
The "bipartisan reforms" he wants are not reforms at all, but to leave Obamacare, sick and failing, just as it is. Obamacare was designed to fail, and then be replaced by single payer, with that payer to be the federal government in a health care scheme much like the wasteful, inefficient and expensive schemes in Europe.
Imperfect though it is, the House repeal does some good things. It repeals most of Obamacare's taxes and the mandate requiring Americans to buy insurance, and replaces its generous subsidies with tax credits. It strips Planned Parenthood and its lucrative business of selling baby body parts, harvested in abortions done under its mandate, of federal funding.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California was a Republican hold-out with an uncomfortable seat on the fence, who finally voted yes because "it's time to stop pretending Obamacare is going to fix itself." Indeed, all Obamacare could do itself was to collapse, and it is well on its way to do that. Help is arriving just in time.