By now you’ve already heard about the complete collapse of the GOP’s health care plans. Ed Morrissey wrote about it this morning, including some of the increasingly far-fetched scenarios on the table, such as the one where the GOP repeals Obamacare entirely (but with a two year window) and provides an “insurance policy” of having the AHCA come into effect if nothing better passes muster in the intervening time.
While considering that option, Ed stated that Donald Trump’s call for a straight repeal isn’t going to work. Here’s the reasoning he provided. (Some emphasis added)
It appears that McConnell wants the AHCA as the default replacement in case Congress can’t do any better in the next two years. Why take up the House bill at all? Senate Republicans rejected it outright as soon as it passed, believing that they could come together on a more inclusive comprehensive plan. Donald Trump wants a straight repeal, but that’s not going to work:
Without attaching the House bill to a repeal, however, McConnell would not be able to qualify the bill for reconciliation and would need 60 votes for repeal. The American Health Care Act’s CBO score allows the whole bill to pass with 51 votes rather than the supermajority McConnell will never get. Presumably the flat-out repeal along with a two-year delay with the AHCA as the fallback replacement will allow conservatives and moderates to agree to a game of Kick the Can.
While most of Ed’s analysis is spot on, there remains a much tougher path which could still be open. To address this fully I want to go back to a bit of depressing prognostication I engaged in last month when I wrote about the decline and fall of Obamacare and the AHCA. At the time I was arguing that any entitlement program, once in place, was virtually impossible to remove. When you start handing out candy, people become used to it and we don’t elect leaders with the political spine required to take it away. Thus, Obamacare was here to stay.
Even if the GOP manages to remove Obamacare, all they’ll be able to do is take out the parts which most conservatives hate (such as the mandates). Taking out the goodies is not only harder, but likely impossible. Obamacare was structured brilliantly in that the things everyone was going to like (mandatory coverage for preexisting conditions, parents keeping their kids on their plans longer) kicked in fast. It took years for the really ugly features to fully come on line (higher penalties for not having insurance, additional mandates driving up premiums). That means that people were already used to the candy being handed out before the flaws in the system ensured that it would begin to implode.
So who wants to be the one to take away those goodies now? Nobody. And this leaves the GOP in the position of trying to make it look like they can still play Santa and hand out all the sugar without the slug of bitter medicine to follow. In order to “fix” this system and make it solvent we would have to deliver bad news which is the political equivalent of blowing out the pilot light in your oven and sticking your head in.
As events have transpired since then I’ve had a chance to reconsider that last portion. Let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about a promise which virtually every Republican running for any office has been making pretty much since the Affordable Health Care Act passed: we’re going to get rid of this. It wasn’t vague. It wasn’t conditional. It was the casus belli which drove most of the current GOP office holders to victory. So are they really going to hang their heads next month, slink out of town and bemoan the sorry state of American politics which prevents them from keeping their word?
Maybe… just maybe… it’s time to take a fresh look at that scenario I described last month which involves sticking your head in the oven.
First of all, Ed Morrissey’s comment about a straight repeal that’s “not going to work” isn’t entirely accurate. There is one other maneuver left and I’m far from the only person to bring it up. Mitch McConnell can pull the last supports out from under the bridge and go full nuclear. Get rid of the sixty vote requirement for any and all legislation. And then just repeal Obamacare (you can still put an end date on it of six months or a year or two if you really wish) and be done with it. It’s not as if the legislation doesn’t already exist. In an era where we’ve grown used to bills which are longer than an encyclopedia, this March Mo Brooks submitted a bill that was exactly one sentence long.
“Effective as of Dec. 31, 2017, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is repealed, and the provisions of law amended or repealed by such Act are restored or revived as if such Act had not been enacted,”
So what happens after that? It’s pretty much Armageddon. The media will sell the public on the idea of the GOP no longer simply pushing Granny off the cliff in her wheelchair, but actually burning her at the stake. The GOP will probably lose a massive number of seats in Congress next year and Trump would more than likely wind up being a one term president. But there would be a couple of other possible effects as well. For one thing, the GOP would have kept its promise. And for another, even if some of the “goodies” from Obamacare went away, insurance premium costs might start coming back down as competition increased and more options became available. That might not seem so bad after a while.
Of course, in the aftermath of the death of the filibuster there are a host of other things which might go pear-shaped as well. The New York Times described the effect of removing the supermajority requirement for all legislation back in April and some of their dire descriptions might not be all that far off. The two parties would probably start bouncing back and forth in terms of controlling the White House and the congressional majorities. The Democrats would be able to pass everything from vastly increasing the minimum wage nationally to instituting mandatory abortions for any women who can’t demonstrate a compelling need to procreate. The GOP could institute Constitutional Carry for all fifty states and revoke the citizenship of anyone who registers as a socialist.
But is that really so bad? Perhaps it would disabuse us once and for all of the notion that the two parties still have any interest in working together. Let them run to their respective extremes for a while. The ensuing voter backlash and the seesawing of government control between Democrats and Republicans (and who knows… maybe even a new party) would become the new system of checks and balances. They’d all figure out how to survive in this new environment sooner or later.
That’s your Heaven’s Gate scenario for the GOP. Except in this case, you don’t have to actually die to get to the spaceship hiding behind the comet. You just go into time out for an election cycle or two.