Trump transition team member: Don't worry, ObamaCare plans won't change at all for the next two years

You know what he’s trying to do here, but even so, this is a jarring talking point coming from a Republican, let alone a Republican who’s on Trump’s transition team. Democrats are out there right now setting fires about O-Care, warning voters who bought their plans on the exchanges that once repeal passes, they’re apt to lose their insurance. Collins wants to reassure those people that that’s a lie: Nothing will change, for at least two whole years. Your plan is locked in. That may be true or it may not: The terms of the plans might not change, but insurers who are spooked by the passage of repeal might threaten to abandon the exchanges unless Congress makes it worth their while to stay. That’s the nightmare scenario that Democrats are touting, that uncertainty over the future of the exchanges will cause insurers to pull the plug immediately rather than hang around until the GOP has a replacement system ready. Collins is simply trying to ease those fears, but that puts him in the position of having to defend the status quo on Obama’s most notorious “achievement” as president.

Which is a strange place for a Republican to be, I think we can agree.

“Those products have already been approved by the state insurance agencies, or for the 2018 time, are in negotiation right now,” he continued.

“So we’re talking about new plans in 2019 or later that will be more affordable, let patients pick their doctors.”

Collins said it is important to make sure Americans are not “disadvantaged.”…

“We’re not going to pull the rug out from under anyone. There’s no reason to worry the next two years.”

Fast-forward to early 2019. Republicans have gained a few seats in the Senate, but not enough to enjoy a filibuster-proof majority. With the two-year repeal delay winding down, they’re under intense pressure to pass a replacement plan and put it in place before the exchanges expire. But Chuck Schumer organizes a filibuster and Democrats hold firm. McConnell considers nuking the filibuster for legislation, allowing the GOP to pass its replacement plan with just 51 votes, but that break with tradition is so momentous that some Republicans simply won’t go along with it. Jammed up by Democrats, what’s to stop McConnell from following the same logic offered by Collins here — we don’t want to disadvantage anyone by having them lose their insurance — and passing an extension of the exchanges that keeps ObamaCare alive for two more years, to 2021? The Washington Examiner notes that the GOP’s track record in standoffs like this isn’t good:

Nobody who has followed Congress in the past 20 years should believe Republicans would win a test of congressional brinkmanship. Past journeys to the edge of disaster have always ended with GOP surrender, typically after heaping servings of scorn.

Gingrich-era government shutdowns, Tea Party government shutdowns, flirting with the debt limit: none of them were GOP victories. Democrats have been willing to let the GOP blow something up, and Republicans were too divided to stand firm and too muddled in their thinking.

If Democrats filibuster a replacement bill at the deadline of repeal, Republicans will be blamed. That’s a law of nature.

It may not even take a filibuster. “One of the risks that Republicans run here,” notes Rich Lowry, “is that they get far down the road of partial repeal, they get a bad score from the CBO that says millions will lose their insurance, and Trump decides he doesn’t want to own that and comes out against it, throwing the effort into chaos.” It was literally just yesterday that Trump warned his party in a series of tweets to be careful about letting itself be seen as having wrecked ObamaCare. Let the law fall on its own terms, Trump urged, then the public will be eager for our replacement. Trump being Trump, there’s a nonzero chance that as the repeal-and-delay process drags on, public opinion will shift towards the status quo. If that happens, would he himself swing around towards supporting an extension of O-Care so as not to be blamed for creating chaos in the marketplace?

The weird thing about Trump’s tweets yesterday, as the party gears up for repeal, was that they seemed to suggest the GOP should hold off on doing anything — including repeal, presumably — until ObamaCare’s exchanges are in such bad shape that the public is begging for a replacement. Harold Ford asks Collins a question along those lines in the clip: Why not wait to repeal until a replacement plan is ready? Why insist on repealing immediately and then delaying the consequences? The answer, I think, is a combination of politics and the GOP not trusting its own resolve. If they don’t repeal the law right away, despite having total control of government, Republican voters will have a conniption. The party now has a clear shot at undoing the biggest piece of Obama’s legacy. They simply must take it, if only to ensure that Democrats won’t be able to prevent it later if they retake the Senate in 2019. But beyond that, if the GOP doesn’t repeal now, they might never feel sufficient pressure to coalesce behind a health-care alternative of their own. If they repeal and set a 2019 deadline for a replacement, it’ll light a fire under their asses to agree on a consensus GOP plan; if they hold off on repealing until that consensus plan is ready, it … might never be ready. They might delay repeal forever on the theory that they’re still perfecting their own system. Essentially, their doubts about their own resolve are forcing them to tie themselves to the mast of repeal and sail on. Sure hope it works out for them.