Navigating the Obamacare endgame

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

Obamacare isn’t having a good month heading into today, the start of a new enrollment season.

First up: the Election results. Nuff said. The size of the new GOP House majority is such that whoever succeeds Obama is likely to contend with a Republican majority for at least their first term. Next, the Supreme Court agreed to hear King v Burwell next year, and the result could roll back Obamacare subsidies in a majority of states (including our own). Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Gruber/Pelosi controversy broke which, by the way, I can’t help but think would’ve swayed a few more house races (and maybe Scott Brown’s Senate contest?) had the infamous video emerged before November 4th.

Finally – for now: revelations contained in a new Obama Administration study (again, released last Friday, almost two weeks post-Election Day) carrying dire consequences for many Americans: “The new data means that many of the seven million people who have bought insurance through federal and state exchanges will have to change to different health plans if they want to avoid paying more — an inconvenience for consumers just becoming accustomed to their coverage.”

Oops. It’s getting hard to keep track of the lies!

The GOP’s ultimate challenge? Leveraging all of this into a Republican presidency in January 2017.

As always, the “how” question brings strong emotions to the surface. Most of 2016 hinges on the nominee and the quality of the campaign he or she puts together, but that doesn’t mean Republicans can’t lay the groundwork (or muck it up). 

Emboldened by picking up a narrow albeit very real Senate Majority, the defund faction still supports using the “power of the purse” to cripple the healthcare law. And, in their defense, the 2013 shutdown certainly didn’t seem to cost the Republican Party in 2014, did it? The country is more polarized than the Clinton v. Gingrich years and, for what it’s worth (a lot), the electorate has a short memory. Often too short. In this case, Ebola and ISIS were topics de jour for the cycle; the shut down was long forgotten. But just because something wasn’t a net negative doesn’t ipso facto make it a net positive.

The chess board has changed a bit after November 4th. We may be able to do it outright now that the Senate is in Republican hands.  The appropriations process may provide the tools as articulated by our friends at the Heritage Foundation. Procedural heavyweights on both sides of the defund coin continue to debate it.

ObamaCareEither way… should we?

After the historic 2010 GOP midterm victory,  Charles Krauthammer famously rejected the defund approach as potentially disastrous for the Republican Party.

“I am skeptical about taking away the funds because what it will do, it will poke holes in the system,” he concluded. “It will make it more chaotic. It will allow some things to be enacted, others to be more slowly or clumsily enacted. In the end, if healthcare collapses or if it becomes utterly unworkable, the Democrats will have a way of saying ‘well, it was all these injuries inflicted by the Republicans that made it not work.”

“I think the smarter approach is simply expose to the American people what is in the bill.”

Now, “exposure” ultimately didn’t happen in 2012 because, as we well know, implementation was deliberately delayed until after reelection to protect the President from the consequence of his landmark legislative “accomplishment.” Post-implementation Election 2014 was a very different story!

Tracking the President’s approval rating over the last two years may back up Krauthammer’s thinking. His approval rating never truly recovered from the bungled roll-out of Obamacare’s first enrollment season. Millions facing higher taxes and losing their preferred plans – and then finding it impossible to navigate his website – only to end up with crappier plans (!) was Barack Obama’s version of Bush’s Katrina debacle. The Ebola and ISIS story lines served only to solidify the public’s perception of a feckless president who needed a GOP Congress to babysit him.

I’m willing to hear from all sides of this internal strategic debate as we move forward but I highly recommend reading Guy Benson’s latest piece on Obamacare over at TownHall.

In setting up his argument, Guy stipulates that the GOP Congress will likely land two bills on Obama’s desk next year – a “repeal” measure and a “replace” option – both of which will meet with vetoes for which the GOP lacks the votes to affect an override. Then the Supremes throw out Obamacare’s subsidies in U.S. states without a state-based exchange. Premium prices spike for a variety of reasons as discussed earlier in this post and for other reason which we’ve highlighted in the past here at Save Jersey; Guy believe that would be the appropriate time for Republicans to step in and provide a winning contrast to the ruling regime:

“How should Republicans respond?  Not responding isn’t a viable option.  My suggestion — and this is just early stage spitballing — is for the GOP to consider offering a package of “fixes” that includes the rudimentary change for which Democrats will be howling (remember, this all assumes that repeal/replace was already attempted and blocked by Obama).  Included in the package deal would be a series of alterations to the law that Republicans have been seeking for some time, that are very popular with the public, and that would ultimately serve to undermine the law.  For instance, eliminating the individual mandate tax, restoring the 40-hour work week, and repealing the medical device tax.  The GOP would have real leverage and popular opinion at their backs on these points.  Message: “Because we care about the people who are once again getting screwed by Obamacare, we’re willing to make the fix President Obama is demanding.  But while we’re at it, we must make some other necessary changes that enjoy broad popular support.  This is what compromise looks like in divided government, which is what the American people decisively voted for.  And in case you’ve forgotten, American, we’ve been against this trainwreck from the start, and we’ve since passed a much better alternative, which the president has stubbornly vetoed.”

Anyone who suggests this is an easy question isn’t being intellectually honest. Like Krauthammer suggests, defunding the non-mandatory administration component of Obamacare may just create a bigger mess, one which Republicans could catch the blame for exacerbating. Similarly, by refusing to “fix” the ACA’s poorly-written subsidy provisions (I bet Pelosi wishes she had read it prior to passage now, huh?) a skillful Democrat presidential nominee – aided by a sympathetic media – may find a way to turn the American people against Republicans as Guy explained in his post.

No one knows the answer. Every approach is fraught with risk. 

My two cents? While I’m no less sympathetic to the defund approach than Guy Benson, I can’t help but look at this cycle’s election results map and walk away with two observations: (1) Americans voted for a GOP Congress to put curbs on their hapless president, no doubt, but (2) they also voted for GOP governors, including in deep blue states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, because they prefer what they’ve seen from Republicans governors in blue states like Wisconsin, New Jersey and Maine.

If the Supreme Court does the right thing, Guy Benson’s middle ground strategy between the “defund” and “do nothing” camps could set up exactly the type of political contrast, balancing moral and electoral considerations, that could give us a Republican president and a clear path to statutorily end Obamacare once and for all.

Stay tuned… 


2 thoughts on “Navigating the Obamacare endgame

  1. I have said for quite a while….fix it, don’t repeal it. Not everything is bad. Plus it would be nice to have a nice, basic list of just what goes into effect each year. Supposedly, 2015 is the year of Medicare Advantage Plans. I do wonder if those retired NJ state workers in medicare advantage plans will be affected by the ACA actio

  2. Yes I believe that a “package of fixes is the right approach to keep the American people happy. It’s obvious that if SCOTUS denies state subsidies, that will be the Death knell for Obamacare.

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