Democrats are eager to declare repealing Obamacare a lost cause, and equally eager to find any Republican who agrees with them. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican conference, had a moment of fame when she was reported over the weekend to have said she’s given up hope on repealing the Affordable Care Act. She quickly explained that she remains committed to its repeal, as every Republican should be.
Obamacare enjoyed a little bump in the polls over the past few months, but the numbers remain on the side of Republicans and reform: According to a recent Washington Post poll, a solid majority — 58 percent — believes that the law is making Americans’ health care more expensive, while only 11 percent believe it is making health care less expensive; an even smaller share (7 percent) believes the law is making their own health care less expensive; unsurprisingly, more Americans oppose the law than support it, and half say the implementation is going worse than expected. Obamacare is likely to be an important issue in this November’s election, and it is an issue that is likely to benefit Republicans.
Now is not the time for Republicans to be allowing The New Republic to pick their issues for them. The politics are on the GOP’s side in the Obamacare debate, and, happily, the policy is, too: It is an extremely poor piece of legislation, poorly implemented by federal bureaucracies that range from the incompetent to the hostile. It has not yet even been established that the law will withstand court challenges on several fronts, including its plain violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Obama administration’s entirely unauthorized decision — in clear violation of the letter of the Affordable Care Act itself — to extend ACA subsidies and penalties into states that have not created exchanges. The average age of those signing up for Obamacare is older than the administration’s stated goal, meaning that there are fewer younger and healthier people paying into the system to offset the higher costs of the older and presumably less healthy beneficiaries. Obamacare achieves half of its new coverage simply by shunting people into Medicaid, a defective, expensive, and unsustainable program.
Obamacare is, in short, a mess, and one that Republicans would do well to concentrate on sorting out even if it were more popular than it is. Happily for Republicans facing election in November, the popularity of Obamacare is, to say the least, not one of the many difficulties associated with replacing it.
Yet, as we have long maintained, simply returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo is not a realistic option, especially now that millions haven’t gotten covered under the law. Republicans and conservatives need an alternative, and have presented a number of good ideas for replacing the slop-pail of mandates, subsidies, regulations, and contradictions that is Obamacare: From the Coburn-Burr proposal in the Senate to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s approach, reformers on the right have pushed for consumer-driven, market-oriented solutions. We hope House Republicans will do the same; their decision to delay rollout of their own replacement bill in part reflects policy disputes within the caucus, and no doubt has something to do with political timing as well.
The 2014 congressional elections will be about Obamacare in large part to the extent that Republicans — and voters — make it so. And no matter how favorable the outcome in November, Republicans will need at least another election to put the votes in place to get it done. If this seems daunting, the stakes justify the long-term commitment. This is not a fight about the appointment of a new federal milk-market administrator — this is much of the American health-care system and a large chunk of the economy, one that is critical to the quality of life of every citizen of this country. If that is not worth fighting over, then nothing is. Only 7 percent of Americans believe that Obamacare is saving them money — and that’s about one-third of the percentage of Americans who believe that spacemen landed at Roswell. The other 93 percent are open to persuasion, and Republicans should persuade them.
The strategy of Democrats since Obamacare’s passage has been to declare the law a fait acompli that it is futile to resist. The predicate for its eventual repeal is Republicans’ rejecting this argument, and fighting on.