Former Senator Norm Coleman joined the Mitt Romney campaign in September, but hasn’t made an impact until now — and Romney may have wished he hadn’t. In an interview Sunday for BioCentury, a health-industry roundtable forum, Coleman said that ObamaCare won’t ever be repealed “in its entirety,” and that “you can’t whole cloth throw it out.” Truth telling, bad messaging, or both?
The Hill reported on this yesterday:
Mitt Romney adviser Norm Coleman, a former senator from Minnesota, predicted the GOP won’t repeal the Democrats’ healthcare reform law even if a Republican candidate defeats President Obama this November.
“You will not repeal the act in its entirety, but you will see major changes, particularly if there is a Republican president,” Coleman told BioCentury This Week television in an interview that aired on Sunday. “You can’t whole-cloth throw it out. But you can substantially change what’s been done.”
Ben Domenech says this is significant, because Coleman might end up running HHS in a Romney administration:
There are a number of takeaways from this, but this is a meaningful takeaway in large part because Coleman remains on the short list for a cabinet position in the next administration, and he’s almost assured a position there if he wants it (perhaps even at HHS).
In other words, he’s not your average political pundit.
If Coleman is correct—and I think it’s possible he is—the next Republican president is likely to go through an experience along these lines: an attempt to repeal the whole bill will be made, passing the House but being filibustered in the Senate. Reconciliation can only go so far, and in the wake of a Supreme Court decision knocking down the individual mandate, the right’s political push to repeal the whole of Obamacare is likely to become less pressing (ironically, the Court’s getting rid of the worst part of the law from the public’s perspective may undercut these efforts). The Senate is likely to force instead a compromise position, in which Obamacare is “fixed,” not repealed – made “more market friendly”, as Coleman suggests.
This may be a good end result for many of the stakeholders and the politicians involved. As for the American people, well, that’s a different story.
Erick Erickson says this would be the end of the GOP:
In fact, the entrenched legislative bureaucracy has a great deal to do with congressional disapproval in the public. Republican staffers want to inch the ball down the field instead of fighting. Democrat staffers are far more aggressive.
If a Republican gets into the White House and does not sweat blood trying to repeal Obamacare in its entirety (regardless of success), I predict the end of the Republican Party legitimately. It won’t be worth fighting for if the party itself does not think it worth fighting for its voters. If the GOP takes back the White House, it’s voters will expect a real fight, not a half-hearted attempt.
I’d say that this is an uncharacteristic stumble for a very smart man, perhaps feeling pressure to be “reasonable” in this forum. Coleman clearly lays out the problems with ObamaCare, but acknowledges that the health-care sector needs some kind of reform, and prefers it to be market-based. So far, so good. However, even if that market-based reform involves elements of the PPACA, why not just say we can repeal the whole ObamaCare structure and start from scratch, keeping an open mind to some elements within the PPACA as we do? That sounds a lot better than “you can’t whole cloth throw it out,” especially when the candidate for whom Coleman consults is saying that he wants exactly that.
I’d call this bad messaging, and Romney should address it sooner rather than later if he wants to defuse it before Thursday’s debate.
Update: The Romney campaign responded that while the candidate respects Coleman, he disagrees with this assessment, according to Ramesh Ponnoru. Ponnoru goes on to criticize the notion of partial repeal:
Getting Obamacare repealed will be very difficult. But it’s not clear what alternative Coleman has in mind, or could have in mind. Some Republicans have talked about getting rid of the law’s least popular provisions, notably the individual mandate, while keeping its most popular provisions, especially the command that insurance companies not take account of customers’ pre-existing health conditions. Coleman himself suggested that the courts might strike down the mandate and Congress might strike down IPAB (the Medicare cost-cutting/rationing board). But if the mandate goes, the insurance regulations have to go too: There’s no way insurance markets could work if you could wait until you were sick to buy insurance. The subsidized exchanges wouldn’t work either if people could jump on them when convenient. Take out IPAB, too, and all that’s left of Obamacare is the expansion of Medicaid. It’s hard to believe that you could build a legislative coalition to get rid of all of Obamacare except for that-especially since undoing that expansion would be key to any Republican bill’s claims to cut the deficit and thus to qualify for the “reconciliation” process needed to avoid a filibuster.
Obamacare could be tweaked by, for example, changing its funding streams. It could be moved leftward, through the introduction of a public option. Or it could be left alone entirely. Those are the options: Repeal, tweak, expand, or do nothing. Which option Republicans should choose is not a hard call.