Democrats are pleading for help, in the face of the implosion of Obamacare. House Republicans confronted with these pleas should listen to those who say: “Don’t do something; just stand there.”
It was Obama and the Democratic Senate who caused the disaster now unfolding. Specifically, Democratic red- or swing-state senators such as Mary Landrieu (La.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and even Al Franken (Minn.) provided key votes to adopt the monstrosity without a single ballot to spare. Let them face the music; let them reap the consequences. And let them try to fix what’s utterly unfixable.
If they want to delay the individual mandate, fine: They can go first. If they want to fix the grandfathering rules so that people who want to keep their plans really can do so, fine: They can go first on that, too. Let them figure out the details. Let them try to make it work. The House can always vote to add its assent once the Senate has acted — all while noting, accurately, that even the delay or the grandfathering fix won’t make the whole of Obamacare successful or popular.
But with each fruitless effort to correct the uncorrectable, the vulnerable Senate Democrats effectively will be acknowledging that they were wrong to begin with.
The likelihood is that the Senate won’t act. It’s likely that the White House won’t let it happen. It’s likely that the vulnerable senators won’t even be able to get the more liberal members of the Senate Democratic caucus to go along with them. It’s likely that the Hagans and Pryors will be left to look both wrongheaded for having passed Obamacare and ineffectual for being unable to convince their leaders to try to improve it.
In politics, there’s not much worse than being wrong and weak at the same time.
But even if the Democrats act to delay disaster, they won’t get the credit — for two reasons. First, Obamacare is such a flawed vessel that even the short-term correctives won’t make the whole program work, and thus won’t get the Democrats off the hook for having created it. Second, even a usually inattentive public is, by now, so aware that Republicans firmly oppose Obamacare that Republicans will get at least as much credit as any Democrats, if not more, for delaying it or letting people keep their current plans.
In short, politically speaking, waiting for the Democrats to act first is the proverbial “win-win” for Republicans. At least for now, letting the lefties stew in their own juices is the best way to stop being blamed for the current toxicity of American politics.
To be clear, this isn’t to say that Republicans in either the House or the Senate should obstruct efforts to delay, fix the grandfathering, or otherwise take action. Far from it. Republicans should welcome and help with this effort. It is, however, to say that the GOP should not take the lead. Let the Dems do the heavy lifting. Let them try to explain what they are doing and why they need to do it. The Democrats will end up tying themselves in knots.
Meanwhile, Republican strategists should be using the time to create an understandable, politically saleable proposal, to be unveiled early next year, to replace Obamacare with a better way forward for American health care. Of course such a plan won’t pass with Harry Reid and Barack Obama in power, but Republicans need to convince the public that they are sincere problem solvers rather than just obstructionists. The plan should not be complicated, and it need not be comprehensive. Indeed, it should be sold not as a grand scheme to solve all ills, but rather as a solid, sober step in the right direction.
The content of that plan must be a focus of a later column; what’s important now is that the “just stand there” position for the next two months should buy conservatives the time and political space to revise their strategies, tactics, and legislative proposals for 2014. In the meantime, to slightly amend the wisdom of the Paul Newman character, sometimes doing nothing shows a real “cool hand.”
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom.