Repeal, Not Repair

by Jeffrey H. Anderson

Republicans have long been united, as a general principle, against the partial repeal of Obamacare. Their focus has wisely been on repealing, rather than fixing, President Obama’s signature legislation. Indeed, the very nature of Obamacare almost necessitates this approach. As Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained about Obamacare even before the Democrats passed it without a single Republican vote, “[W]e have to have a comprehensive approach, because the pieces of the puzzle are too closely tied to one another.” She added, “Pieces of the puzzle are necessarily tied together if you have a comprehensive approach.” Comprehensive legislation, it follows, calls for comprehensive repeal. The last thing Republicans should be trying to do is incrementally improve Obamacare.

Yet today’s lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal counsels Republicans to do exactly that. The Journal calls for budget negotiations leading to “some improvements to ObamaCare, such as repeal of the medical-device tax.”  But when did Republicans become a part of the “improve” coalition? 

To be clear, efforts that would improve Obamacare shouldn’t be confused with efforts that would undermine it at its core. Obamacare cannot function without its individual mandate or its exchange subsidies, for example, so repealing those would amount to something close to full repeal while helping to ensure that result. Republicans should therefore take clear aim at such targets at every turn, whether targeting them for repeal or delay. They should also stand up against the lawless implementation of Obamacare, as they have by passing a bill to delay the employer mandate by law rather than by executive fiat, and another to prevent the illegal Obamacare congressional carve-out.

In other words, they should stick with, and give renewed voice to, their budgetary proposal:  fund the federal government, delay Obamacare’s individual mandate by a year, and end the congressional carve-out.

Quite unlike this sensible budgetary proposal, repealing the medical-device tax wouldn’t undermine Obamacare at its core. It wouldn’t affect Obamacare’s workings in any serious way. It wouldn’t involve standing up for the rule of law. It wouldn’t weaken Obamacare. It would merely make Obamacare just a little bit less objectionable, thereby making it just a little bit harder to repeal. 

Far from being a worthwhile victory for Obamacare’s opponents, therefore, repealing the medical-device tax would actually be a minor victory for Obamacare’s supporters. Republicans should showcase their ongoing commitment to repealing Obamacare, not repairing it.

— Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the newly formed 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda