Senate Dems: Say, we may want to help replace ObamaCare too

After more than six years, four elections, and the loss of control on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Democrats still wonder what happened to their dominance. Facing perhaps the most daunting election in decades, at least a few of them have finally figured out that ObamaCare kicked off their long trek into the wilderness. Now that many of them will have to answer for it in 2018, they’re suddenly a lot more open about working with Republicans on an alternative — after the GOP kills ObamaCare for them first:

Senate Democrats will never vote to repeal Obamacare. But once the deed is done, a surprising number of them say they’re open to helping Republicans replace it.

“If it makes sense, I think there’ll be a lot of Democrats who would be for it,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). …

Twenty-five Democrats are on the ballot in 2018, including 10 in states that Donald Trump just won. The GOP is betting that many or most in the latter group will be under irresistible pressure to back an Obamacare replacement, if the alternative is leaving millions of people in the lurch without insurance.

Interviews with more than a half-dozen Democratic senators spanning the party’s ideological spectrum suggest the Republican strategy may not be far-fetched. As harshly partisan as the entire Obamacare experience has been, replacing it could draw bipartisan backing, as long as the changes are more adjustment than overhaul.

In two years, Democrats have lost the Senate, and then lost their best opportunity to win it back for the next decade along with the White House. It might have taken that kind of political anvil to drop on their heads, but at least those at risk in 2018 appear to have awakened to the biggest problem they have. Democratic Senators from Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida not only saw their state go to Donald Trump, but also recognize that they have Republicans in control of state legislatures and in the governors’ offices (except in PA). The normal midterm cycle turnout model makes their plight even more desperate.

They need to start looking cooperative rather than obstructionist, and there’s no bigger way to do that than finding a compromise on ObamaCare. They can’t vote to repeal it without completely alienating their base and encouraging a primary challenge, but once repeal is a fait accompli, they can argue that they’re working to limit Republican extremism, etc etc etc.

That is precisely what Republicans should want. Democrats destroyed their position by using single-party governance to shove unpopular programs into law on party-line votes, leaving Republicans off the hook for whatever followed. The GOP needs to get Democrats involved in crafting whatever follows ObamaCare not just for political cover, but also to make sure each side has enough of a stake in the outcome to keep it in place.

That’s most critical because of the dangers that Medicare presents in an ObamaCare repeal. As I explain in my column for The Fiscal Times, that’s a potential Gordian knot if the GOP can’t get some Democrats to work together on solving:

But even the best of intentions often run head-on into reality – and a new report from the Kaiser Foundation underscores the reality of dismantling Obamacare and its implications for Medicare. A full repeal, as repeatedly proposed by Price in his “Empowering Patients First Act,” would eliminate cost savings in Medicare and add as much as another $350 billion in Medicare costs over the next decade, using June 2015 calculations by the Congressional Budget Office. …

The alternative would be to unwind parts of Obamacare immediately through a partial repeal, but leave its Medicare components in place for a later date. That would take a more surgical approach, while Price could cut into the vast regulatory expansion created under the ACA by his two predecessors. It would take more time but would provide a better landing arc for the demolition of the program.

That would afford Republicans an opportunity to find enough Democrats to go along with a replacement. … But that only works if Republicans can repeal Obamacare up front, at least those portions that don’t impact Medicare. As long as it’s possible to save Obamacare, Democrats will refuse to cooperate on any Republican alternative, and they will get more obstinate about it the longer it drags out. Trump and Priebus really have no choice but to act quickly if they want to deliver on this promise at all.

The key to Democratic cooperation is a quick pulling of the Band-Aid on a repeal that leaves the Medicare changes in place for now. If Priebus and Trump are planning to tackle this as their first legislative project, they’ll need to get that legislative language ready before Inauguration Day.

Addendum: That path is not without its risks for red-state Democrats, however:

The broadside from the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America came hours after POLITICO reported that some Senate Democrats would be open to working to rebuild the health care law as long as Obamacare’s core components are preserved. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue responded that “Democrats should not learn the wrong lessons from 2016. If they do, they will be without our support in 2018.”

“NARAL has a clear message for Democratic lawmakers: if you support Republicans in their effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, NARAL, our one million member activists, and our PAC will not support you in 2018 or beyond,” Hogue said in a statement. “Republican leaders have made clear their only intention is to repeal the law. They do not have now, nor are they likely to ever have, a meaningful plan to ‘replace’ this historic expansion of Americans’ health care. Democrats should not play this game with them.”

Aaaaaaaand this is why Democrats look doomed no matter what in 2018. Either they remain obstructionist to please far-left progressive groups like NARAL and alienate red-state voters and lose their seats, or they work with Republicans to get something accomplished and get abandoned by their supposed allies. Will Democrats figure out that blind allegiance to NARAL is part of what has marginalized them into coastal and academic enclaves before getting trounced in another election?