As politicians, voters and the media talk through what it means to repeal Obamacare with no replacement in place, we think it is less and less likely to happen. Consider how strange it is that neither Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., can answer the most basic question: Will people have coverage they now enjoy under Obamacare at equal or less cost?
The Hill reports:
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday declined to commit when asked at a press conference if the Republican plan would insure as many people as ObamaCare.
“Look I’m not going to get ahead of our committee process,” Ryan said. “We’re just beginning to put this together.”
He instead called for a system “that gives us access to affordable healthcare in this country without a costly government takeover.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also declined to make a commitment when asked on Wednesday.
McConnell sidestepped a question about whether his priority was making sure no one with coverage now was left behind.
“Let me just say, we have on the floor of the Senate now the ObamaCare repeal resolution,” McConnell said. “The priorities between now and January 20th are hearings on Cabinet members.”
And yet they are asking voters to view repeal of Obamacare as a good thing because what they will be getting instead is … well, utterly unknown?
The more Ryan insists that help is on the way, the more obvious it is that Republicans are selling a pig in a poke. “This law is hurting people right now. We need to deliver relief to Americans hurting under #Obamacare,” Ryan tweeted. So where is it? Is it bigger than a breadbox?
Understand why Republicans are in this fix. They never imagined President-elect Donald Trump would win; now that he has, they are caught with their inflated promise (more choice! cheaper coverage! better care! lower taxes!). Rather than admit it and ask for the public’s indulgence (provide a timetable for legislation if need be) they insist on plunging ahead. If they blow this, they are unlikely to get another chance.
Ryan might want to take a peek over in the Senate. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. — yes the ambitious conservative freshman — is already bailing. “I think when we repeal Obamacare we need to have the solution in place moving forward,” he said on MSNBC. “Again, the solution may be implemented in a deliberate fashion, but I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare and say we’ll get the answer two years from now.” That takes the potential vote for repeal and delay down to 51. But wait, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is not on board because a total repeal (including all the related taxes) knocks a hole in the budget. Now we are at 50, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence ready to cast the final vote. Not so fast. Others voicing concern about a repeal with no replacement include Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Now we are at 48 votes. With GOP governors voicing real concerns about chaos in their states, do we think there won’t be any more defections? Unlikely. (We note that Cotton is on the same page as his GOP governor, Asa Hutchinson, who says he needs continued funding for Medicaid expansion.)
Now let’s go back to the House. You’re a freshman or a swing state representative (or both). Your voters back home, especially in the Rust Belt, never imagined they would lose coverage or get worse coverage. And then you see Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway promising that everyone keeps their coverage. (How quickly do you think Trump will turn on Republicans in Congress when their repeal and delay causes a firestorm? Less time than it took him to undercut them on the ethics office.) Then consider a few complications:
- If you repeal Obamacare including taxes, when you come up with an alternative you will need to find new revenue (i.e. taxes). Will they vote for new taxes?
- If they never reach agreement even among themselves (let alone with Democrats) do they have to vote for Obamacare to put it back in place?
- If the price of getting Democratic votes is, say, covering illegal immigrants or covering abortions, don’t they think Trump would leap at the chance to make the deal with Democrats? (Republicans will be hostage since they’ve voted to get rid of Obamacare.)
There are dozens of other considerations and scenarios, but if you’re a Republican in the House, why in the world would you go down this road?
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.