House Republicans have again put on hold plans to release their alternative to Obamacare. Bloomberg News on Tuesday quoted Republicans as claiming that they are still working on legislative terms. But it may also be that Republicans see that there just isn’t real policy space for an alternative that would meaningfully accomplish what the Affordable Care Act does.
A GOP congressional health aide was quoted in Talking Points Memo on Tuesday as saying: “As far as ‘repeal and replace' goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act. . . . To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA. You have to have a participating mechanism, you have to have a mechanism to fund it, you have to have a mechanism to fix parts of the market.”
You don’t say! Now this is just one aide, but the remarks follow Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent admission that if Obamacare is repealed, its popular provisions would be too costly to replace.
Now that Obamacare’s benefits are no longer theoretical, it’s harder for Republicans to advocate “repeal and replace” without getting forced into an uncomfortable choice: Either they offer an alternative that would accomplish a fraction of Obamacare’s popular goals, or they can claim to support those goals, which invites questions as to whether they are willing to accept necessary trade-offs.
All signs are that House Republicans will opt for the former if they ever do introduce an alternative, sticking by such tried-and-true GOP ideas as allowing insurance sales across state lines. But some GOP candidates have indicated support for the law’s general, and expansive, goals. Hence Senate candidate Thom Tillis of North Carolina insists that he supports protections for the sick, and Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land of Michigan says she supports extending coverage to the poor, even as neither says how he or she would accomplish these things.
Perhaps Obamacare will remain so unpopular in red states that Republicans will be able to get away with vague “anything but Obamacare” evasions. But it’s also possible that the scrutiny of Senate races will make them increasingly difficult to sustain. Polls already show majorities want to move on from the Obamacare debate. If mounting enrollment and a general sense that the law is functioning adequately force Republican candidates to agree that Obamacare’s goals are worthy – even as they don’t particularly want to discuss how they would accomplish them – is it all that fanciful to imagine the law getting neutralized as an issue?