Obamacare: The Final Battle
Republicans have to explain why it’s bad — and explain it soon.


Avik Roy

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In the wake of John Roberts’s incoherent Supreme Court flip-floppery, most conservatives appear to find themselves in stage 1 (“Hey, we held the line on the Commerce Clause!”) or stage 2 (“Roberts is a traitor!”). There are some in stage 3 (“If we lay off Roberts, maybe he’ll help us out in the future?”) and a few in stage 4. But the reality is this: Republicans must run the table in November or we will all have to accept the permanence of Obamacare.

Mitt Romney said it best on Thursday. “If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we’re going to have to replace President Obama.” Those who have been sitting on the sidelines, out of complacency or loyalty to someone else from the primaries, must get out of their chairs and get to work. But while that work must end with Mitt Romney in the White House, it must begin with a Republican majority in the Senate.

The plan
There is much confusion and disagreement among Republicans as to whether or not Obamacare can be repealed via reconciliation, which would require 50 votes in the Senate — and a Republican vice president — instead of the filibuster-proof 60. Governor Romney has committed to repealing Obamacare via reconciliation. “We have to repeal Obamacare, and I will do that . . . with a reconciliation bill. . . . We can get rid of it with 51 votes,” he said last October.

It can be done. Reconciliation can be used for any provision that is germane to the budget, and a simple bill repealing Obamacare would certainly be so. And even a more complex bill could get through reconciliation, as Jim Capretta explains, because much of Obamacare’s regulatory architecture — including the individual mandate — revolves around the law’s revenue and spending provisions.

But the Senate majority needed to repeal Obamacare is far from guaranteed. Indeed, if the election were held today, Republicans would probably fail.

The math
Today, Republicans control 47 seats in the upper chamber. Olympia Snowe’s retirement in Maine — a likely pickup for the Democrats — means that Republicans must gain four more seats to control the Senate, and probably six to gain a governing majority. Based on the latest polls in each race, if the election were held today, Republicans would get only to 49. And even 49 is not assured.

At first glance, the math seems favorable. Of the 15 races that RealClearPolitics deems most competitive, Democrats must defend 11 seats: Stabenow (Mich.), Brown (Ohio), Nelson (Fla.), McCaskill (Mo.), Tester (Mont.), and open seats in Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Republicans must defend four: Brown (Mass.), Heller (Nev.), and open seats in Arizona and Indiana.