The Repeal Trap

Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 12:20 pm
An interesting situation has developed with the passage of Health Care Reform by the Democrats - the Republicans have previously swore up and down to repeal the entire HC bill. They've even gone as far as to have national leaders claim that they will be basing large parts of their Fall election campaign on this.

This is a trap and they have stepped into it. It is now firmly closed around their legs and I predict major problems for the Republican party, though not enough to keep them from getting some seats, once they are confronted with the problem in debates and political ads.

How are Republicans going to walk the line between promises to repeal the whole bill, and the practical realities that:

1, the bill isn't going to be repealed or even meaningfully reduced under Obama's term, no matter how many Republicans get elected in 2010; and

2, parts of the bill are in fact extremely popular and most people aren't going to want them repealed; and

3, you can't pay for the popular parts if you repeal the unpopular ones.

There will be a significant divide between the frothed-up Republican base on this issue, and the calmer politicians; how will this be addressed? The Club for Growth and various Tea Party groups are already yelling at Republicans who are stating the obvious, that the bill isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Hopefully the Democrats will get smart and really press them on this issue.

Here's an article by Steve Benen showing just how badly the Republicans are currently suited to respond to this:


THE MUDDLED REPEAL MESSAGE, CONT'D.... Yesterday afternoon, right-wing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) told thousands of fans, "You better believe it, baby. Repeal is what this girl is going to be all about after November. We're about repealing all of Obama-care."

Around the same time, right-wing Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he thinks Republicans will gut the Affordable Care Act, but conceded, "We're not gonna repeal everything."

To reiterate a point from a couple of weeks ago, for all of Republicans' many faults, they tend to have one impressive strength: message discipline. The GOP Powers That Be will decide what party officials and their allies are supposed to say, and Republicans tend to follow the marching orders extremely well. The GOP shapes much of the discourse simply by getting its members to all say the exact same thing, over and over again.

When it comes to the next step on health care policy, the message mechanism obviously isn't working. It's starting to make the party a little nervous.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are facing a mini-rebellion against their message on healthcare reform.

Every GOP lawmaker rejected the Democrats' bill last month, but the party is now split on whether to call for a full repeal of the new law.

The "mini-rebellion" is the result of conservative Republicans getting an earful from their very conservative brethren. GOP leaders have committed to a "repeal and replace" message, though they won't say how much of the new law they want to repeal, and they won't say what they intend to replace it with.

For extremists like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), that's not good enough. He and his allies apparently intend to keep pressing party leaders to see things their way.

The Iowan wrote last week, "Republicans will either stand unanimously together for 100 percent repeal, as we did against the bill, or our ranks will be split and our effort defeated.... No one demonstrated to 'kill the most egregious aspects' or 'preserve the least egregious aspects' of Obamacare. This is an all or nothing fight from this point forward."

The back and forth within the GOP caucus may go on for a while.
"Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

A large part of the problem is that the Republicans have no good answers to these questions, re: partial repeal -


Whenever I write about my concerns that Republican lawmakers don't seem to know anything about public policy, I invariably get emails pushing back. Just because GOP leaders take a different approach, doesn't mean they're dumb, I'm told. They must know substantive details, I'm reminded. After all, they're experienced politicians responsible for shaping U.S. policy at the federal level.

I can appreciate why the premise seems implausible, but consider a classic example from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman.

This week, Bookman and other AJC editors and columnists participated in an 80-minute interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Both agreed that they had serious objections to the Affordable Care Act, but said they intended to keep some provisions of the new law, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions. The individual mandate, however, would have to go, the conservative senators said.

Readers of this blog probably already recognize the problem here. If those with pre-existing conditions will be protected, the mandate is necessary to keep costs from spiraling and to prevent the "free rider" problem.

Bookman understands this. The senators don't.

If you somehow tell companies they can no longer deny coverage of pre-existing conditions, you need to provide them another way to eliminate free riders. Under the new law, individual mandates are that tool. As long as everyone is required to have coverage, nobody can game the system and there's no longer any justification to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

So if the GOP plan is going to ensure that pre-existing conditions are covered, as Chambliss and McConnell suggested, how would they do it without individual mandates? What mechanism would they use?

Chambliss and McConnell had no answer. Literally.

After Chambliss fumbled an initial response, McConnell broke in with a long and familiar condemnation of the Democratic plan, including its failure to include tort reform. After a few minutes, I interrupted and brought him back to the question: OK, but how are the Republicans going to cover pre-existing conditions?

"The premiums are going up either way," he said.

OK, I responded, a little stunned. That doesn't explain how the Republicans intend to cover pre-existing conditions.

"The premiums are going up either way," he repeated.

That was that. We moved on, and I still don't have my answer.

Let's be clear about this. After over a year of debate about health care policy, two leading Senate Republicans, including the Senate Minority Leader, can't speak intelligently about the basics. Bookman didn't throw a curve ball at them, quizzing them on some obscure provision -- this was an easy one for anyone with a basic understanding of what policymakers have been discussing since early last year.

They want protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and want to eliminate the mandate, but asked how that could work, these experienced senators have no idea how to even begin answering the question.

They have their talking points, but if anyone dares to scratch the surface, even a little, they're completely lost.

Anyone who thinks Republican lawmakers are well-informed, thoughtful public officials, with a working knowledge of public policy, simply isn't paying attention.
"Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Reply Thu 8 Apr, 2010 01:28 pm
I think that most Republicans, despite what some are saying about repealing health care, know full well that it is not going to happen at least as long as Obama is president. I think they can rely on the general anger out there about the bill and its passage (among their base and a majority of independents, according to the last polls I am familiar with) to help win gains in congress this fall.

I do agree that those who have sworn to push for repeal will have to walk a fine line because democrat opponents can get their base riled up by running a campaign to keep the republicans from repealing it. (Elect a democrat or republicans will try to get HC repealed.) That is the danger to the republicans in making the recent passage of HC and their desire to see it repealed a big issue.
Reply Mon 12 Apr, 2010 02:23 pm
Boehner doesn't seem to know.

April 12, 2010

Republican officials still haven't quite figured out what they want to say about repealing the new Affordable Care Act -- a surprising number of Republicans aren't willing to commit to scrapping the entire law -- but the party's House leader nevertheless described the push as the GOP's top legislative priority.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that repealing the healthcare legislation passed in Congress last month and signed into law by President Barack Obama would be the GOP's top priority if it wins back control of Congress this fall.

"They got everything else in the entire bureaucracy that they need to control our healthcare system ... with the signing of this bill," Boehner said during an interview on WFLA's "Bud Hedinger Show." "That's why repealing this bill has to be our No. 1 priority."

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Holllen (D-Md.) called Boehner's comments "stunning."

"It is stunning that House Republicans will make their number one priority repealing benefits and rights for Americans, raising taxes, and turning our health care system back over to insurance companies. Not only does this legislation improve our health care system, it will also reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over 20 years, create millions of jobs, and provide small business owners with important tax credits. The House Republican leadership should start saying no to the special interests of the health insurance industry, and starting saying yes to American families by working with us to create jobs and get the economy back on track."

Dems aren't backing down at all on this front, and I'm glad. The party has long seen advantages in the GOP's repeal push, and it's a strategy Dems hope will pay dividends.

But Van Holllen's response reminded me of a related point. The new Affordable Care Act really does offer lots of tax breaks to small businesses and individuals. I'm curious -- if Republicans are vowing to repeal the ACA in its entirety, doesn't that mean they're promising to raise taxes? And for those GOP candidates who've signed that Norquist pledge, isn't this likely to be problematic?


That is the danger to the republicans in making the recent passage of HC and their desire to see it repealed a big issue.

I think the danger for them is that many parts of the bill are in fact popular, and when you poll people on those parts they have 70-80% approval. When this is specifically examined, the anger doesn't hold up. So the Dems will corner them time and time again and make them specifically say that they want to repeal tax breaks and consumer protections.

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