New GOP strategy on ObamaCare: Let it burn

After the government shutdown over ObamaCare fizzled in mid-October, people wondered whether the GOP would try the same strategy again in early 2014 to force an end to the ACA.  The Hill reports that the House and Senate Republican caucuses are now united in dumping that strategy.  Instead, the GOP will simply allow ObamaCare to unfold as Democrats planned:

Republican lawmakers who pushed the government shutdown to stop ObamaCare say their new plan is to sit back and watch the law self-destruct.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and other Tea Party allies of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) say the threat of a shutdown is no longer necessary to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now that the administration’s rollout is flailing.

While Cruz is not ruling out another attempt to use government funding as leverage, his allies think they already have the political support they need to repeal the healthcare reform law.

“Leverage is building every day,” said Lee. “It won’t necessarily require us to rely on using the [continuing resolution].”

This is a smart move, albeit grounded in a couple of political realities.  First, Senate Democrats aren’t going to get bullied by Republicans into defunding ObamaCare, as the first shutdown proved.  Second, an attempt by Capitol Hill Republicans to force that outcome initially distracted from the unfolding disaster of ObamaCare. That’s the last thing Republicans want now, with a full-blown feeding frenzy on the ACA.  Why step in front of Democrats and give the media that kind of distraction?

Besides, the news will get worse for Democrats as the year unfolds anyway.  National Journal’s Sam Baker notes (as I have several times) that the decision to delay the employer mandate until 2015 means that the pain of the transition will happen right before the midterms. This may turn out to be the single worst political decision Barack Obama ever made, although Baker is a little more sanguine:

And that’s not the only political threat lurking just ahead of the 2014 midterms. The White House also delayed the law’s employer mandate until 2015. That means employers will be deciding in mid- to late 2014 whether they’re going to offer health benefits under the mandate—and whether to cut employees’ hours to avoid providing them with health care. …
Still, although plans will have to be canceled again next October, there are reasons to believe the issue won’t be as damaging as it has been over the past two months. For starters, it’s not clear how many plans will actually be extended for another year. Several states have rejected Obama’s proposal, and insurers aren’t sure whether it’s worth the trouble to resurrect policies they have already canceled.

Consumers whose plans are canceled next year will also have a much easier time finding a replacement. Because, the primary Obamacare enrollment website, was functioning so poorly this year, consumers were seeing their plans canceled yet had no easy way to even find out whether they could get tax subsidies to help buy a new policy.

Sure … except that they won’t be getting a similar level of coverage. They will have fewer hospitals and providers to access, and longer wait times to get to them. Many of them won’t get the subsidy from their employer, either, that helped soften the premium costs.  Even if that eventually works out to be something close to a fair trade-off, the transition time will worry and anger voters just as they’re deciding whether to vote for the people who supported ObamaCare or the people who want to get rid of it in favor of smarter reforms. Guess which way they’ll be leaning?

That’s why the “let it burn” strategy is the best option for the GOP. They need to stand firm on opposition but make clear that any problems came from Democratic design and implementation without contributing any potential excuses of obstructionism at this point (although Obama and the Democrats will continue to make the Tinkerbell argument nonetheless).  When this delayed mandate detonates in October 2014, it will take with it any remaining Democratic credibility on governance.

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