It’s Not a Trap

by Jeffrey H. Anderson

Writing at RedState, Erick Erickson argues that, in championing the Upton bill—which would make millions of Americans’ health-insurance plans legal again for the next year — “Republicans are walking into a trap.” He writes that the bill, proposed by Representative Fred Upton (R., Mich.), “does not have anything in it that can force insurance companies . . . to keep insurance plans going.” Meanwhile, Senator Mary Landrieu’s bill, which, Erickson writes, “the Democrats love . . . mandates [that] insurance companies have to keep people on their present insurance.” He then predicts the following result:

The House, with the help of a good number of Democrats, will pass the Upton plan and send it to the Senate.  Harry Reid will substitute the Landrieu plan and send it back to the House.  The House will be forced to either vote for the Landrieu plan or be characterized as siding with insurance companies against people.

In one fell swoop, the Democrats will have the GOP on record saving Mary Landrieu’s re-election in Louisiana by casting her as the one who saved Americans’ health care plans, and also getting on record as really being in favor of fixing Obamacare with the use of mandates.

In truth, Obamacare is not fixable.  The only solution is to fully repeal it.  The Republicans should not be helping Democrats with their re-election plans, which is all the are doing with Upton/Landrieu.

Erickson is certainly right that Obamacare is not fixable, that Republican shouldn’t be trying to fix it in any event, and that the only real solution to Obamare is to repeal it (which can’t happen until President Obama has a complete ideological or psychological conversion, about 40 percent of Senate Democrats jump ship, or we hit January 20, 2017 — whichever comes first). He’s also right that the Upton bill won’t bring back to life all of the plans that Obamacare has already killed off with its coercive mandates. But he’s wrong that it’s a trap. Or, rather, he’s wrong that it’s a trap for Republicans.

The Upton bill helps put Obama’s oft-repeated “you can keep it” lie even more front-and-center. More important, it puts red-state and swing-state Senate Democrats in the position where they have to decide between defying Obama on his centerpiece legislation or else saying that they don’t think their constituents who like their plans should be able to keep their plans. In short, it puts them in an impossible place and helps solidify their status as sitting ducks a year from now. 

Moreover — and important — the Upton bill would not help fix Obamacare. To the contrary, if it were to become law, it would badly undermine Obamacare’s exchanges, which would then be drained of millions of (previously insured and hence generally healthier) people whom Obama wanted to compel to buy exchange-based plans by banning their preferred plans. In short, Upton would hurt Obamacare, not fix it — which is why Obama opposes it.

As for Landrieu’s bill, if Republicans can’t successfully argue that Congress has no constitutional power to compel commerce (the basic point of the successful — in that vein — challenge to Obamacare under the Commerce Clause), if they can’t argue that Congress has no power to compel anyone to sell an insurance plan, or, by extension, to compel a doctor to see a patient, etc., then we’re in sad shape.

Obamacare made millions of people’s plans illegal. By passing the Upton bill, House Republicans would be striving to make them legal again for the next year. If insurers nevertheless choose to stop offering those plans, it will still be Obamacare that set that trend in motion. What’s more, the GOP would then be free to criticize those insurers and remind voters that, over the next decade, Obamacare would funnel a stunning $1 trillion from American taxpayers, via Washington, to insurers (according to the Congressional Budget Office). Meanwhile, Landrieu’s bill is more of the heavy-handed, coercive model of government that gave us Obamacare to begin with, and Republicans should say so. 

Finally, Landrieu’s bill would undermine the Obamacare exchanges at least as much as Upton’s bill would. So the Democrats certainly don’t love it, and it’s highly unlikely they would ever pass it. But if they did, and if the House and Senate ended up reconciling Upton and Landrieu in conference, the clear loser would be Obamacare — whose exchange population would just have gotten older, sicker, and costlier. 

And then around October 2014, all of those notices about losing your health plan because of Obamacare would start being mailed out again, just in time to help voters make an informed choice on November 4.

House Republican should pass the Upton bill and let Senate Democrats decide what to do with it. The range of bad options facing the party of Obamacare will further illustrate that, just because they like their government takeover of health care, they can’t necessarily keep their government takeover of health care.

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