Repealing Obamacare: Another march down the blind alley

    Remember the scene in Animal House when the mindless marching band stomps into a blind alley and keeps playing even after it collides with a brick wall? That moment came to mind the other day when I spied this headline:

    House GOP to hold first Obamacare repeal vote of new Congress

    At first I assumed it had to be satire from The Onion, but no. It was a scoop from Fox News.

    Are the House Republicans funny or what? They’ve already voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of Obamacare – always in vain, of course, because the notion of taking away millions of Americans’ health care would never clear the Senate or survive the president’s veto. Yet here they are again, in 2015, jonesing to re-collide with that alley wall.

    Why do they persist with such mindlessness? Because, as Fox News points out, conservative groups want their red meat, they want lawmakers “to go big in their efforts to dismantle the law.” Plus, House leaders want to give their freshmen a chance to vote for repeal; in other words, the vote has become a Republican rite of passage, like the way college frats invite their pledges to get drunk.

    And, even more comically, House leaders hope that the repeal vote – slated for next week – will inspire Republicans to cook up a speedy replacement for Obamacare. I kid you not. In a memo, the leaders say they will “include instruction to the relevant committees to develop our patient-centered health reforms.”

    Wait, haven’t we seen this movie before? I’m thinking Groundhog Day, because it’s fascinating how these people keep starting from scratch over and over.

    One year ago today, on this blog, I wrote:

    “While congressional Republicans have busied themselves (with repeal), they have long failed to offer a competing vision for health reform. We all know what they’re against, but what are they for? Heck, can they even quell their own infighting long enough to agree on what they’re for?”

    One year later, the answer is still no. They haven’t done jack, because they can’t agree on what to do or how to do it. A few ’14 proposals blew up on the launch pad; nothing has ever been put to a vote. And even if they did manage to agree on alternative reforms, they’d actually have to defend the reforms – especially to the millions of Americans newly insured under Obamacare – and that wouldn’t be fun at all.

    And besides, health care reform has never been their thing. As Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute wrote early last year, Republicans have long been “complacent” about reforming the health system because, historically, “they’ve had little electoral incentive” – mostly because “the vast majority of the Republican base is employed or retired” and thus content with the status quo. Heath reform has been a Democratic thing since Harry Truman. The Republican thing has been to yell stop – “to drive a stake through the heart of Obamacare once and for all,” as conservative activists are now urging in a fax blast to all congressional members.

    But meanwhile, out in the real world, distanced from the D.C. partisan messaging, Obamacare is on target to meet its 2015 sign-up goals. We’re talking about nearly 10 million people. And the most delicious irony of all is that enrollment is particularly robust in red states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina – mostly through the federal health exchange program, because GOP governors have generally refused to set up their own.

    In fact, the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that a disproportionate share of federal Obamacare enrollees are white, employed, modest-income southerners. You read that right; those moochers and takers are crucial to the GOP base. If Obamacare ever got repealed, how would the congressional Republicans replace what those folks have lost?

    Better question: If the U.S. Supreme Court decides this spring, in King v. Burwell, to nix Obamacare’s federal exchange subsidies – subsidies that help those white modest-income southerners, and Americans generally in 37 states – what will congressional Republicans do for those folks, to replace what they’ve lost?

    Answer: Congressional Republicans have been too giddy about a possible judicial victory to think about the downside consequences. If the court wipes out those subsidies, an estimated 6.1 million Obamacare enrollees would feel serious financial pain – enough to compel many of them to drop their coverage. But Republicans are barely up to speed on solutions. In the words of Sen. Orrin Hatch, a pro-GOP court ruling “opens the door to come up with some laws that will make up for the mess we’re in. We have until June.”

    Yeah, good luck with that deadline. They’ve had years to come up with their own vision of health reform – heck, they controlled both chambers for much of the George W. Bush era – and they’ve never met a deadline. They prefer the easier path of marching anew into that alley wall.

    ——-

    Meanwhile: Mitt Romney said this morning that he will self-deport from the ’16 race. Apparently he is not running.

    Remember what I wrote yesterday? Never mind!

    ——-

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

     

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.