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Here's the Man Who Predicted the GOP's Obamacare Mess

Former House Speaker John Boehner told us so when it comes to Obamacare.
Image: Then-House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington
Then-House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 27, 2015.Lauren Victoria Burke / AP

Former House Speaker John Boehner told us so.

The Ohio Republican has largely stayed out of the spotlight since leaving his perch as the head of the House GOP in 2015, but the few comments he's made publicly about health care reveal he is still closely watching Washington. And his more than two decades in Congress have allowed him to assess even the rockiest political landscapes with smooth precision.

Boehner said back in February that — despite the GOP’s control of the House, Senate and White House — his former colleagues would not be able to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"In the 25 years I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time, agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once," Boehner said at a health care conference in Florida at the time.

"All this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about, 'Repeal, repeal, repeal, yeah, we’ll do replace, replace,' I start laughing. Because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it," he added.

Five months later Republicans proved unable to so much as pass a partial repeal of the health care law they vowed to dismantle.

What will happen, Boehner predicted five months ago, is that the unpopular aspects of the bill will be stripped away incrementally and replaced with fixes.

"They’ll fix Obamacare. I shouldn’t call it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it," he said during the panel conversation with former Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society forum.

Even the prospects of the much tamer repeal approach remain unclear, with President Donald Trump at times calling for allowing the legislation to "collapse" and pin Democrats with the blame. Still both parties, and even former President Barack Obama, agree the law needs to be improved. Any tweaks will likely require bipartisan support.

As recently as last week Boehner predicted smaller changes will be made.

"When it’s all said and done, you’re not going to have an employer mandate anymore, you’re not going to have the individual mandate," Boehner said in private remarks to a Las Vegas crowd obtained by the Washington Post. "The Medicaid expansion will be there. The governors will have more control over their Medicaid populations and how to get them care, and a lot of Obamacare taxes will probably go."

The comments, made July 21, came as Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump continued to push to overturn the Affordable Care Act and reform Medicaid.

"Here we are, seven months into this year, and yet they’ve not passed this bill. Now, they’re never — they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare," Boehner said. "It’s been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work."

A spokesman for Boehner said the former Congressman has declined interviews out of "deference to his former colleagues."

"In his comments back in February, and in his remarks more recently, Speaker Boehner said he believes Republicans will eventually succeed in repealing the pillars of Obamacare, including its employer mandate and the individual mandate," spokesman Dave Schnittger told NBC News. "In both cases, he was addressing the policy challenges that are inevitably involved with attempting to enact a wholesale repeal and replacement of a law that has been on the books now for seven years."

Boehner has said he considers Trump a friend. But at an energy conference in Houston in May he said everything Trump has done aside from foreign policy "has been a complete disaster" and called the White House’s tax reform plan "just a bunch of happy talk."

He also had one more notable prediction in his leaked Las Vegas appearance. If the GOP can’t get health care, tax reform or infrastructure legislation passed "they’re going to get annihilated" in the midterm elections next year.