Is it possible to repair a house on fire without extinguishing the raging inferno in it?
Republicans think we are stupid enough to believe so.
First they promised to repeal Obamacare “root and branch.” Then they promised to “repeal and replace” without explaining its meaning — other than to legitimize the premise of Obamacare as a partial force for good. Now, they are on to “repair.”
The Hill has the relevant quotes from two of the most important committee chairmen (Senator Walden, R-Ore. (F, 36%) and Senator Alexander, R-Tenn. (F, 15%)) drafting the repeal bill … which will not repeal Obamacare:
“I'm trying to be accurate on this that there are some of these provisions in the law that probably will stay, or we may modify them, but we're going to fix things, we're going to repair things,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a key player on healthcare, told reporters Tuesday.
“There are things we can build on and repair, there are things we can completely repeal,” he said.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is sounding a similar note. […]
“I think it is more accurate to say repair ObamaCare because, for example, in the reconciliation procedure that we have in the Senate, we can't repeal all of ObamaCare,” Alexander said. “ObamaCare wasn't passed by reconciliation, it can't be repealed by reconciliation. So we can repair the individual market, which is a good place to start."
As we noted before, every word of this premise is false because the price-hiking coverage regulations are inextricably linked to the subsidies, as noted by the courts and CBO. Therefore, the regulations can be repealed through budget reconciliation. Moreover, the Senate parliamentarian doesn’t have the final say on addressing Senate precedent.
However, there is a more important point to bring out from this story. These people lied to all of us. They told a bald-faced lie. Absolutely nothing changed structurally about Obamacare from the time they made these promises during the past three elections until now. If anything, premiums went up even more than expected and there are even fewer insurers than previously predicted, making the case for repeal an easier political sell.
Likewise, nothing changed procedurally from the time they promised to use budget reconciliation to repeal at least most of the main elements of the law. Republicans always knew that they would need to get rid of the actuarially crippling regulations, which would then unfreeze the insurance market, lower costs, bring back choice and competition, and engender much less of a need for subsidies. All the while, everyone always planned to maintain the subsidies and Medicaid expansion for a one to two-year transition period while other free market health care and health insurance reforms were put in place.
Yet, Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, never had any intention of repealing it because they don’t believe or understand free markets, are owned by the big pharma/big government complex, and have no desire or ability to articulate a winning issue to the public without shooting themselves in the foot.
This day was predicted long ago
In 2012 and 2014, conservatives worked against Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (F, 40%) and his sitting RINO Senators (such as Thad Cochran, R-Miss. (F, 22%), Pat Roberts, R-Kan. (F, 51%) Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala. (F, 20%) and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (F, 15%)) and his chosen challengers in open seats (such as Sens. Tillis, R-N.C. (F, 35%) and Cassidy, R-La. (F, 47%)). Voters were warned that they had no intention of repealing Obamacare. Conservatives cautioned that if Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas (A, 97%) plan to defund Obamacare at its inception was not followed, the law would never be repealed. That if we failed to build a Senate majority upon a solid foundation and stronger leadership, Obamacare would never be repealed even if we were so fortunate to control all three branches. [See my op-ed at Fox News Opinion on October 25, 2013, “Building a GOP Majority on Quicksand”]
Groups like Senate Conservatives Fund were maligned as pursuing “purity for profit” and undermining the creation of a GOP majority that would truly repeal Obamacare. Establishment voices accused the grassroots activists of needlessly creating a civil war over disagreements on strategy. Yet, we knew all along it was a disagreement over beliefs and courage, not strategy. Unfortunately, the establishment used their superior funding (from groups like the Chamber of Commerce that wanted to keep Obamacare all along) to run on repealing the law “root and branch,” as McConnell famously said. Now, some of these very senators are leading the charge to repair the law, which is not feasible.
Trump must intervene
Obviously, President Trump is having a busy week with his immigration policies and the Supreme Court pick, among many other issues. He can’t address everything in the first month of his presidency. But there is no way to ignore Obamacare. Unless it is FULLY repealed, within a few years no middle-income American will be able to live in freedom and dignity without permanent government support and intervention in healthcare. We will have no freedom in one sixth of our economy. Moreover, the crushing job loss, debt, and diminished wages from the Obamacare regulations are weighing down the economy and will undermine the president’s ability to grow the economy with some of his other plans. It will limit his ability to secure a legacy as a jobs president.
The plan forward
Trump should dispatch Vice President Pence to work with the House Freedom Caucus as well as Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. (F, 52%) and ensure that the House passes the full repeal bill — along with the regulations. They should make it clear that there are no excuses for the Senate to not overrule the parliamentarian, but at the same time they should not wait around for the lords of the Senate to do the right thing. The reconciliation bill should be structured as follows:
- An 18-month transition for retaining the subsidies and the Medicaid expansion. However, immediately freeze both programs from new registrations.
- Repeal Obamacare’s taxes immediately and the regulations by mid-year so that insurance companies can have certainty to offer cheaper, competitive plans in 2018
- On the administrative end, have Tom Price, R-Ga. (D, 62%) get rid of any cost-sharing subsidies and risk corridor bailouts for insurance companies. This will force them to utilize the lifting of regulations to lower prices and actually compete for business rather than relying on subsidies.
- Meanwhile, individual states should work on reducing their own onerous health care and health insurance regulations in order to maximize the market effect of reducing federal insurance regulations.
At that point, Trump should relentlessly use his bully pulpit to name and shame the Senate into fulfilling their promise. It can be done if we actually got the momentum rolling in the House. As Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. (A 94%) and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio (A, 96%) said in a statement today, “We committed to the American people to repeal every tax, every mandate, the regulations, and to defund Planned Parenthood. That’s what the American people expect us to do — and they expect us to do it quickly.”
In the meantime, conservatives should put the pressure on the Senate by launching a new round of primaries. Members like Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (F, 50%), Bob Corker, R-Tenn. (F, 45%), Roger Wicker, R-Miss. (F, 28%), and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (F, 33%) could be prime targets in states won by Trump.
As Bobby Jindal said, “Republicans who want to retreat from repeal to repair should be replaced.”