Why conservatives are ‘boxed in’ on Obamacare

    This is an awesome week, for three reasons: (1) winter is finally dead, (2) baseball is finally back, and (3) with respect to Obamacare, sane conservatives are trying to hose down the haters, reason with the rabid, and talk sense to the trolls.

    Their two-part message to fact-averse brethren: Obamacare is here to stay, as now evidenced by the successful enrollment numbers, so deal with it; and even if the repeal fantasy was even remotely possible, Republicans have blown their credibility by failing to agree on what, if anything, should replace it.

    In addition to Ross Douthat, who was quoted here yesterday, longtime conservative commentators Ramesh Ponnuru and Reihan Salam deserve kudos as well for acknowledging empirical reality. Ponnuru says that President Obama’s success in meeting his original enrollment goal is “important as a political matter.” But he says a lot more:

    “It’s clear now that one scenario with a lot of purchase among conservative opponents of Obamacare – that the law would ‘implode,’ ‘collapse’ or ‘unravel’ – is highly unlikely…Many congressional Republicans wanted to believe the idea, though, especially because they viewed it as one more reason they could avoid coming up with their own health-care agenda. (This avoidance) was illogical – if the program was going to self-destruct in months, wouldn’t the country need a replacement ready? – but the psychological impulse was to avoid grappling with health-care issues.”

    Psychological impulse indeed. Ponnuru knows darn well that Republicans have never gotten their act together on health reform; either they’ve had nothing to say, or they’ve floated various ideas without bothering to agree on any of them. Helping the uninsured and taming insurance company abuses – that’s not what Republicans do. Coalescing around a positive plan to replace Obamacare – that’s not what Republicans do. In fact, when the Kaiser Family Foundation polled rank-and-file Republicans last month, only 27 percent said they wanted to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a Republican plan. Clearly, their aversion to affirmative governance is endemic.

    And so Ponnuru lamented how politically stupid Republicans have been: “The likelihood of replacement would be higher if there was an alternative that didn’t take away people’s insurance – one that promised to cover roughly as many people as Obamacare does, or even more…Opponents of Obamacare should always have been thinking along these lines. Now they have less and less choice.”

    Salam, on the right-wing National Review website, credits Ponnuru for recognizing reality and agrees, “Obamacare won’t simply ‘implode.'” The successful enrollment stats announced yesterday “make repeal and replace a more difficult proposition. Conservatives are boxed in. The goalposts have shifted, and Republicans now need to offer a health-care reform that will cover at least as many people as Obamacare, and that will create attractive and affordable insurance options for Obamacare enrollees….But most GOP lawmakers have yet to reconcile themselves to the reality that they need to rally around a meaningful alternative.”

    Conservatives are indeed “boxed in.” For years they have waited around, rooting for Armageddon and a return to the status quo. People like Mitch McConnell chortled last fall, in reference to the glitching Obamacare website, “I don’t think Albert Einstein could make this thing work.” (Maybe not, but some smart nerds did.) Fellow senator John Thune declared that Obamacare was “destined to fail.” And when John McCain was asked last fall what Republicans planned to offer, as an alternative to Obamacare, he offered only the standard lame response: “We have a positive agenda and hopefully we’ll come up with it soon.”

    Yeah, right. “Hopefully.” One House idea, floated by a Georgia congressman, has drawn support from barely half the Republican congressmen, and the GOP leadership has refused to move on it. One Senate idea, floated in January, actually suggested that Americans with employer-sponsored care be required to pay some income tax for the coverage; naturally, that plan imploded on the launchpad. As a reality-based Republican aide told conservative reporter Byron York this winter, “Getting unanimity is a tall order for a divided leaderless party.”

    And besides, the public doesn’t trust the GOP to come up with anything substantive; according to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, only 11 percent of Americans – yup, 11 percent – want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with some Republican alternative.

    Republicans have blown it, and the health reform law is settled fact – more so with each signup. That’s what sane conservatives are talking about when they reference reality.

    ——-

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    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.