Obamacare repeal dying the death of a dozen cuts in the Senate

If you’ve been following the health care news, Obamacare remains on the rocks. State exchanges are going broke and closing around the nation because there was a complete failure to anticipate the costs they would encounter with a flood of sick people signing on and healthy people not willing to bear the financial burden. For those who somehow managed to keep the plan they liked, premiums are not only not going down, or even rising more slowly, but are rising far faster than people’s incomes. (It’s also worth noting that the New York Times reported this weekend that many of those who are using Obamacare are finding the deductibles and other out of pocket expenses so high that the insurance is essentially worthless except in cases of catastrophic illness or injury.) With all that in mind, you may recall some talk in GOP circles about getting another (likely doomed) bill to repeal at least some parts of the program pushed through the legislature and sent to the President’s desk by Thanksgiving.

The latest word from The Hill on that front is… don’t hold your breath.

Senate GOP leaders had hoped to move a House-passed package repealing parts of the controversial healthcare reform law before Thanksgiving. But that plan has been shelved amid party turmoil.

Senate Republican sources say the measure, which has encountered opposition from conservatives and moderates, albeit for different reasons, will have to wait until after Thanksgiving. Some say it could slide into next year.

“We have not scheduled that yet,” a Senate GOP leadership aide said Friday. “We don’t have a bill yet. You’re always short the votes until you have a bill.”

Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) told reporters last month “the week or so before Thanksgiving looks like a good opportunity” to move the ObamaCare repeal package.

Apparently a lot can change in a month. Not only are they now talking about waiting until next year, some members are telling reporters (off the record for the most part) that we might want to wait until 2017 and see how we do in the next elections. So what went so wrong?

For starters, McConnell is trying to ram this through via reconciliation. That carries with it the benefit that he only needs a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate, but it also restricts the bill to only items which go toward reducing the deficit, such as the Cadillac tax and other items which directly impact revenue. That fact, along with some smaller riders, have a number of Republican Senators walking away, and there isn’t a single Democrat who would vote for any repeal at this point.

Among the conservatives, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee are all saying they won’t vote for a “half measure” after they promised to fight to repeal the entire law. On the other end of the GOP spectrum, moderates like Mike Kirk, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are saying they can’t support the bill if it includes defunding Planned Parenthood. You can sort of understand Kirk’s position to a degree because he’s looking at a very tough reelection battle next fall and Illinois may be too blue to forgive a shot at Planned Parenthood. But at the same time, if he can’t carry that fight to his voters he may be doomed anyway.

The Cruz, Rubio, Lee block is a bit harder to understand. I get that two of them are running for President and want to take a hard line to impress their base, but it seems like half a loaf is better than none. But the counter-argument being made can’t be totally discounted either. They’re saying that if we remove some of the most unpopular sections which are taking money out of people’s pockets, that may leave only the more popular aspects of Obamacare (keeping kids on the parents’ policies longer, getting rid of preexisting condition clauses) and deflate efforts at a full repeal later. Unfortunately, the partial repeal will just make the program even more unbalanced in terms of costs and send the program into a financial death spiral all the faster.

None of this addresses the fact that Obama would veto it as soon as the bill got within spitting distance of the Oval Office, but that’s probably not the point. We’ve already seen Democrats saying that they will proudly run on Obamacare, so if the President has to veto a repeal and the costs continue to skyrocket, Hillary Clinton is going to be put in a tough spot defending both the bill and her old boss next fall. It seems to me that it’s worth taking a run at it, but without the support of those recalcitrant GOP senators there’s not much Mitch McConnell can do.