Paul Ryan
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

As was reported, this morning VP-elect Pence met with Congressional Republicans to strategize about plans to repeal Obamacare. It will be interesting to watch what leaks out to the press about what was discussed. But I found this initial disclosure to be fascinating:

Who knows what they mean by a “rescue mission?” One can only assume that they want to rescue millions of Americans from the benefits of Obamacare that I outlined yesterday. But it’s clear that the closer we get to actual action on their plans to repeal the health care law, the more jittery Republicans are becoming, as MJ Lee documents.

Republicans are just getting started on their years-long dream of repealing Obamacare, and already, there are fears that things are moving too fast.

Some Republicans are cautioning against repealing the Affordable Care Act too quickly and urging the party take the foot off the accelerator. The reason: there’s no plan on how to replace what they roll back. And while GOP lawmakers are eager to please their base with headlines of Obamacare’s repeal, they don’t want to be blamed for leaving people without health insurance and chaos in the healthcare market.

Sen. John McCain told reporters Tuesday that he supports taking a slower approach to repealing the law, saying he is “always worried about something that took a long time in the making and we’ve got to concentrate our efforts to making sure that we do it right so that nobody’s left out.”

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker and a close ally of President-elect Donald Trump, told CNN that a big risk for Republicans is getting blamed for taking away people’s health coverage…

GOP Sen. Rand Paul cited potential insurance market problems if the law isn’t replaced when it is repealed. “If Congress fails to vote on a replacement at the same time as repeal, the repealers risk assuming the blame for the continued unraveling of Obamacare,” he said in an op-ed Tuesday. “For mark my words, Obamacare will continue to unravel and wreak havoc for years to come.”

All of this validates what Jonathan Chait wrote recently.

If Republicans truly believed Obamacare creates more victims than beneficiaries, they would blow it up immediately. And if they really had an alternative that was more popular, they would wait to write it before they eliminated it. Repeal-and-delay proves that neither one of these is true. They have no better plan. All they can do is promise some better plan lies over a horizon that will never arrive.

As this unfolds, I am reminded of the advice given to Republicans by two conservatives in years past on the topic of health care reform. The first goes all the way back to 1993 when Bill Kristol wrote a memo to provide strategies for fighting against the Clinton health care reforms.

Any Republican urge to negotiate a “least bad” compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president “do something” about health care, should also be resisted. Passage of the Clinton health care plan, in any form, would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy–and the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security. Its success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas. And, not least, it would destroy the present breadth and quality of the American health care system, still the world’s finest. On grounds of national policy alone, the plan should not be amended; it should be erased.

But the Clinton proposal is also a serious political threat to the Republican Party. Republicans must therefore clearly understand the political strategy implicit in the Clinton plan–and then adopt an aggressive and uncompromising counterstrategy designed to delegitimize the proposal and defeat its partisan purpose.

As I wrote last year, that might be the origins of the Republican embrace of obstruction. But note why any effort to provide affordable and accessible health insurance was such a threat to the GOP: it “would guarantee….the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security” and “its success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy.”

Obstruction worked to defeat the Clinton plan on health care reform. But it didn’t work when they tried it again on Obamacare. David Frum famously called that the Republican’s Waterloo. Upon passage of the ACA with no Republican input or support, he wrote:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994…

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none…

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

We’ll soon see whether Frum’s blanket statement about how “this bill will not be repealed” holds up against a Republican-controlled Congress and presidency. But he was prescient in outlining why that would be so difficult in naming the kinds of benefits Americans would grow accustomed to…just as Kristol knew that health care reform would present a serious challenge to the Republican efforts to roll back what he called a “centralized welfare state.”

The challenge faced by Republicans to defeat these kinds of efforts is that they have a view of government that doesn’t embrace the idea of “promoting the general welfare.” But time and again they find themselves having to dance around that reality because the voters in this democracy don’t share that vision. So they have to play with words like “rescuing” us from the benefits of Obamacare.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.