THE GOP CAN GET WHAT IT WANTS ON HEALTH CARE (BUT IT DOESN’T CARE)…. This week, several lawmakers in the House and Senate began exploring policy alternatives to the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. What was interesting about this is that all of the lawmakers are Democrats.

Most reasonable observers expect the mandate to survive the legal challenges, but some Dems are exploring alternatives anyway, in part because of the politics, and in part out of concern over an unpredictable judiciary. Earlier this week, for example, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested an open-enrollment period with a penalty on those who wait. Soon after, Rep. Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) floated the notion of an individual opt-out, with a locked door that prevents free-riders from trying to get back in later.

At face value, I’m a little skeptical about the ideas on the merits, and we can talk more about them if they start to gain any traction. The larger point is, there are Dems ready to work on this issue — they’re not wedded to the mandate, and they’ll gladly give it up.

In theory, mandate-hating Republicans should welcome these developments, right? After all, if they’re sincere about their deep-seated* disgust for the mandate — which they consider some kind of outrageous abuse, despite having come up with the idea in the first place — GOP officials should jump at the chance to get rid of it. If the mandate is an affront to American freedom — it’s not, but just for the sake of conversation — it stands to reason Republicans would gladly work with willing Dems on this.

But that’s not happening. As best as I can tell, not a single GOP lawmaker — literally, not one — has stepped up this week to either propose a way to eliminate the mandate or work with Dems on an alternative.

It led Aaron Carroll to make a very compelling challenge to conservative opponents of health care reform.

I say this because I see many of you so absolutely crazed by the individual mandate. It’s as if this is akin to “taxation without representation”. You believe this is the first step on the slippery slope to fascism. Fine.

If that’s the case, where is the simple proposal to lose the mandate? I know you’d have no trouble getting every Republican behind that bill. I bet you’d even get a fair number of Democrats. Heck, Senator Obama was opposed to it. So if you really, really hate the mandate so much, go ahead and lose it. […]

But I’ve seen no one propose that. Why not? I suspect it’s because you’re really not as offended by the mandate, as you are by the PPACA. […]

[P]rove me wrong. If the mandate so offends you, call on your representatives to support a bill to remove it right now. It’s not like there aren’t other means to achieve the same incentives…. So there’s the challenge. Support a fix to the mandate right now. If you won’t, then you obviously aren’t that concerned about “liberty.”

This need not be considered rhetorical. There’s a House Republican majority that claims to hate the mandate — will they work on a policy that replaces it? Literally every Republican senator believes the mandate is unconstitutional — are they ready to talk to Dems about an alternative?

We know the answers, precisely because we know the GOP isn’t sincere at all. It’d be easy for Republicans to prove otherwise, but I have no doubt that will not happen. It would (a) require constructive policymaking, which Republicans don’t like; and (b) take away one of the right’s favorite things to whine about, which is far more important than amorphous talking points about “freedom.”

* thanks to H.L.A. for the typo catch

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.