The GOP’s back-door repeal scheme

THE GOP’S BACK-DOOR REPEAL SCHEME…. Congressional Republicans still like to talk up the idea of “repealing” the Affordable Care Act, but no one takes this especially seriously. Even if the GOP claimed a House majority next year, Republicans could huff and puff, but they couldn’t blow the law down. They’d need 60 votes in the Senate and a Republican president. At least in 2011, they’ll have neither.

But notice that GOP rhetoric of late has emphasized a related-but-separate point. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week continued to blather on about “repeal and replace,” but he also told attendees to a town-hall meeting that he has a back-up plan. If repeal fails, Boehner said, “They’re not going to get one dime from us to hire these new federal employees to run this.”

This might sound like hollow bravado, but it’s important. I alluded to this last weekend, and today Brian Beutler fills in the gaps with an important report.

“The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you’re suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills,” says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In short, implementing the health care law costs money. “Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed,” van de Water said. “If HHS and Treasury don’t get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It’s not sexy but it’s serious.”

Norm Ornstein told Brian, “In theory [they] could cut the funding 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent. The problem is, you could do a lot of damage in a lot of different places.” That could include Republicans deciding to “refuse to fund the entire Labor-HHS appropriations bill, or .. .pass an appropriation for Labor-HHS that does not include any funds for implementation of the health care plan.”

Why haven’t we heard about this before? In part because it has no modern precedent. After passage of milestone legislation like Social Security and Medicare, Republicans probably would have loved to try to defund the programs, but a) there were still GOP moderates at the time; and b) voters didn’t reward Republicans by giving them control after these bedrock programs became law.

We’ll see how all of this shakes out — there’s still a chance Republicans won’t get a majority in either chamber — but I wouldn’t be too surprised if this pushed a Democratic White House and a GOP House to an impasse that could, as we talked about on Sunday, produce a government shutdown, a la 1995.