Republicans may have a way out of their “repeal and replace” Obamacare position, which is proving a lot more difficult than they realized. The catch is their alternative may be even more phony.
It could be phonier than the “repeal and rename” strategy I expected. For years, I’ve said Republicans could rename the Affordable Care Act and its components – so we might have, for example, “Ronald Reagan Freedom Insurance Choices.”
The reasoning is, while Republicans have hated “Obamacare” as a symbol of the president they detest, few of them are upset about the law itself, except for a relatively small group of principled libertarian-leaning conservatives.
But most GOP politicians and activists have other priorities – fighting legal abortion for social conservatives, protecting U.S. interests for foreign-policy conservatives, lowering taxes for economic conservatives.
The job of fashioning a working health-care system is incredibly difficult. This is why Republicans haven’t agreed to a replacement plan after years of promising one. In fact, it’s proving difficult for Republicans even to agree on a repeal-and-delay bill, which would leave some or all of Obamacare in place while they figure out a replacement.
Congressional scholar Sarah Binder hints Republicans may wind up trying to get away with something even more cynical. She notes Republicans are calling the budget resolution under debate in the Senate an “Obamacare repeal resolution.”
As she says, a budget resolution doesn’t do anything; it merely contains (nonbinding) instructions from Congress to itself to pass future laws, and enables a future “reconciliation” bill.
Binder suggests, however, if the eventual repeal bill looks shaky, Republicans could just celebrate the budget resolution’s passage and call it a day.
That is, instead of “repeal and delay,” Republicans would try “pretend and delay” – pass a nonbinding resolution and hail it as Mission Accomplished.
Could Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans really get away with such a brazen maneuver?
I don’t see why not.
Democrats care more about preserving the substance of the policy than about drawing attention to a symbolic move’s hypocrisy. Most GOP voters care more about symbolism. To avoid getting mired in repealing and replacing a complicated law in a complicated policy area, Trump and Congressional Republicans could opt to make the issue go away.
The pivotal factor would be if the GOP-aligned media accept the deception.
My guess is they would play along for now, just as they tended to with President George W. Bush on violations of conservative orthodoxy in his first term. Picking a fight with a new GOP president would be risky for those who care only about ratings, and most who care about policy have higher priorities, such as Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee.
One disadvantage in building popular support for the Affordable Care Act –that consumers don’t usually see anything named the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare” when they use the health-care system – could be a real advantage when it comes to pretending to repeal and replace it.
Opting for the pretend solution wouldn’t end debates and decisions on health care, of course. Republicans would still want to cut some of the taxes involved, and might try to make all sorts of other changes, which Democrats would try to prevent. It would be politics as usual.