Ben Sasse: Let's repeal ObamaCare next month and replace it in August

Caveat: He’s willing to wait until July 10th to see if McConnell can broker a compromise between moderates and conservatives. If not, then he wants Operation: Repeal Now/Replace Soon to be a go.

[O]n July 10, if we don’t have agreement on a combined repeal and replace plan, we should immediately vote again on H.R. 3762, the December 2015 ObamaCare repeal legislation that the Congress passed but President Obama vetoed. We should include a year-long implementation delay to give comfort to Americans currently on ObamaCare that a replacement plan will be enacted before expiration.

Second, please call on Congress to cancel the August state work period to instead work around the clock exclusively on a health replacement plan on which we can vote this Labor Day. After we gave our word to repeal and replace ObamaCare’s monstrosity, we should not go back to our states during August as the American people struggle under fewer choices and skyrocketing costs. We should remain in DC at work.

He went on “Fox & Friends” this morning to sell the plan, no doubt hoping the show’s most loyal viewer would be watching and would respond enthusiastically. Score:

I don’t see the point of “repeal and delay” at this stage, especially if the delay would only last six weeks. Why not follow Sasse’s plan for a Senate health-care boot camp during August and then vote to repeal and replace together? Why repeal now when there’s still no successor system, knowing that insurers and consumers are apt to spazz out over the uncertainty? It feels like a political gimmick, a way to get repeal on the books without another moment’s hesitation to make the GOP base happy instead of asking them to be patient for another month and a half. And it’s a golden opportunity for Democrats to scare the hell out of the public by spending the next few weeks bellowing that America no longer has any sort of federal insurance system for people who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

Sasse would answer that by noting that, under his proposal, repeal wouldn’t take effect for another year — but I don’t see the point of that either. The idea behind his plan, as I understand it, is essentially to force Republicans to write a replacement bill ASAP by nuking ObamaCare immediately; as Ross Douthat put it, “Let’s take the poison [now], because then we’ll be *really* motivated to find the antidote.” But adding a one-year delay for repeal to be implemented seems to defeat the purpose: It’s more like “Let’s promise right now to take the poison a year from now because then we’ll be really motivated to find the antidote.” That reduces the urgency, and if the antidote never materializes, you can always further promise next year to take the poison in the year following. It’s either a recipe for perpetual delays of repeal or unnecessary if Congress is serious about crafting a replacement system soon. Either way, I find it depressing that a serious, well-meaning legislator like Sasse thinks the only way the GOP can really bear down on reforming America’s health-insurance system is with artificially imposed deadlines. Just huddle up and work something out, for cripes sake.

…unless, that is, this is strategic. Ed emails with the thought that maybe Sasse and Rand Paul, who also likes the idea of repeal and (quick) replace, are actually trying to spook moderate Republicans by raising the idea. Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Rob Portman and the rest of the centrist gang are very leery of a clean repeal, even if the caucus agrees to write a bill in August, knowing that Democrats will attack them along the lines I described above. Purple-state senators don’t want to be accused of having pulled the rug out from under ObamaCare consumers, however temporarily. Solution: Bend towards conservative demands now and help McConnell fashion a compromise bill that can pass early next month. That’s a better justification for Sasse’s proposal than the merits of it are, but I can’t see why moderates would bend. All they need are three no’s to block the “repeal now” strategy. Why would they give in to conservative demands for the sake of avoiding it when they already have the power to prevent it? And if this were a pure bluff by Sasse, why not insist upon clean repeal without any prospect of writing a replacement bill soon? That would be scarier to moderates than the August bill-writing boot camp idea is.

The one substantive virtue of Repeal Now/Replace Soon, I think, is that it would technically start the caucus off with a clean slate. Right now they’re focused on tweaking an extant system to make it (slightly) more conservative; having O-Care still on the books might discourage some moderates from embracing bold reforms they might otherwise consider. Blow up the whole law next month and then start fresh in August and the window of policy possibilities might open up. Psychologically, it’s the difference between remodeling a house and bulldozing it and building a new one; obviously the first option limits you in important ways. Again, though, how do you get moderates to agree to the bulldozer option in the first place? Especially when many voters back home, faced with uncertainty about what the GOP might do, have suddenly developed Strange New Respect for ObamaCare?