Colorado Republicans for Obamacare?

by John R. Graham

Colorado’s Health Benefits Exchange legislation, which would implement Obamacare in the state, was “mortally wounded,” but is being brought back to life by none other than the Republican majority leader in the state house of representatives, Amy Stephens, according to the Denver Post’s Tim Hoover.

Exchanges are the vehicles through which the gusher of cash from Obamacare’s tax hikes will be laundered into subsidies to favored health plans, payments to vendors and consultants, and salaried jobs for political appointees.

To be sure, this is not what the conservative Stephens thought she was doing. The bill was rolling happily along a couple of weeks ago, when the state’s liberty groups caught wind of it and convinced Stephens to “test” whether or not this was actually an Obamacare-enabling exchange, by offering an amendment that the exchange could only start up if the state got a waiver from Obamacare. Needless to say, the legislation failed the test, and the bill’s supporters pulled it in order to get to work on Stephens.

Its supporters included a powerful group of business interests such as the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Sure, the NFIB is party to the Florida-led lawsuit to overturn Obamacare, but they’re not going to let that prevent them from straddling both sides of the fence.

These business groups probably think that the state’s current political make-up — Democratic governor and Senate majority, and a one-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives — represents the GOP’s high-water mark for the next few political cycles. They (and Stephens) believe they can blunt the worst effects of the Obamacare exchange if Republicans have some input into the bill.

This is wishful thinking. Section 1311(k) of PPACA states: “An Exchange may not establish rules that conflict with or prevent the application of regulations promulgated by the Secretary under this subtitle.” If Obamacare is not repealed by 2014, Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Heath & Human Services, will ramp up a regulatory bureaucracy that will quickly breach Colorado’s legislative defenses. After all, she who has the gold makes the rules. Every penny of subsidies that the exchange will launder will be federal. The idea that Colorado will have the ability to resist federal directives once the subsidies start flowing is surely unrealistic. Soon after 2014, there will be no effective difference between state-based and federal Obamacare exchanges.

Reinforcing this wishful thinking is an irrational fear: that if they don’t craft legislation, Gov. John Hickenlooper will implement Obamacare through executive order. Maybe he will, but so what? Collaboration confuses the commitment to repeal. Surely it is far better that the governor be forced to implement Obamacare unilaterally — as best he can — under strict oversight from anti-Obamacare House committees of jurisdiction.

Republican state politicians in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and other states have killed exchanges because they do not want to see President Obama campaigning on Obamacare’s faux flexibility and responsiveness — as would have been demonstrated by bipartisan state legislation to implement it.

It’s not too late for Majority Leader Stephens to make the same decision for Colorado.

Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.