The Corner

Debating the Feasibility of Repeal

My article on the homepage today concerns what needs to happen this year to increase the likelihood that Obamacare will be repealed and replaced. Jonathan Chait, in response, continues to insist that repeal is a “fantasy.” He raises two main objections.

The first is that Republicans would need to elect 60 Senators to enact repeal, which is unlikely. I think he’s wrong about this. Presumably parts of Obamacare could be repealed via reconciliation, just as parts of it were enacted that way; it may not be beyond the wit of man to structure total repeal in a way that qualifies for reconciliation. Also, if Obamacare remains unpopular it does not strike me as impossible that some Democratic senators would reconsider their support. And while 60 Republican senators in 2013 is unlikely, it’s not impossible given the way this year’s races are going and the heavily Democratic make-up of the Senators up for re-election in 2012.

Second, Chait writes, “In 2009-2010, Republicans could oppose health care reform while saying they favored some painless alternative that would address preexisting conditions and other popular demands. If they’re crafting a law to repeal the Act and they don’t have an alternative, though, people are going to notice. Vague promises to address the problem somewhere down the line won’t cut it.” As I argue in the article, for this year I believe Republicans can call for repeal while saying they favor other reforms. They have already all voted for alternative reforms, and so little of Obamacare has gone into effect that there is almost nothing that requires instant replacement. That may be true next year as well.

Eventually, though, Chait is right that Republicans will have to devise health-care plans that can pass Congress and be signed by the president, and this will be, to say the least, a difficult challenge. I would not go so far as to say that repeal is likely to happen (although I would say it is likely to happen if Republicans have unified control of the government in 2013). But it’s considerably more likely than most observers now believe.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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