Is the GOP really about to unveil a replacement for Obamacare?

Remember back in the days following the 2014 midterms when the GOP was still talking about not only repealing Obamacare, but providing a viable replacement for it which made sense for the country? Good times, my friends. Of course, once the primary kicked into gear last spring most of those conversations seemed to fall by the wayside. But it’s back in the news this week because at least one lawmaker is hinting that Republicans may be within weeks of releasing just such a proposal. (The Hill)

A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.

“Give us a little time, another month or so,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. “I think we’ll be pretty close to a Republican alternative.”

Unfortunately, not even Congressman Upton’s Republican colleagues seems to be buying this story.

Even now, the healthcare reform task force is not expected to produce an actual bill to replace the law, Ryan’s office said Friday.

“[Legislative] text is not necessary to show exactly what you’re going to do,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said. “The point is not to have a vote on the floor and have it go nowhere.”

When the leadership is invoking the phrase, legislative text is not necessary you can be pretty sure that there’s nothing in the hopper that’s even close to being ready for prime time. But the bigger question at hand should probably be, does the GOP really need to roll out a replacement for Obamacare at this point? The program has turned into a pool of quicksand for both parties and it’s difficult to see who profits in November from opening that can of worms again right now.

The fact that Obamacare, as implemented, has turned out to be a disaster is pretty much beyond dispute for all but the most partisan defenders of the President. One exchange after another is going bankrupt and prices for consumers continue to go through the roof. Even for those who have coverage under the program, deductibles are so high as to make the policies essentially worthless in terms of month to month expenses for lower income families. (If you are at the absolute bottom end of the economic scale and qualify for maximum taxpayer subsidies the premiums may be affordable enough, but your out of pocket expenses can still be crippling.) So with all that’s wrong in the program, why not continue to either repeal or replace it?

Both the Republicans and the Democrats have good reason not to be the first ones to move on the issue. If liberals begin touting it as a success and pushing to “preserve and build on” it, the GOP can cite all the factors I mentioned above in response. But if the Republicans run on repealing it, the Dems have a built-in talking point. Technically there are a few million people who now have coverage who didn’t have it before. It may be pretty lousy coverage which doesn’t do all that much for them, but it’s there. So any talk of repeal will be touted in the media as an effort to “take it away” from poor people. While deceptive to a degree, it’s a powerful totem in the election wars.

It would be different if the GOP had a simple, easy to understand plan which would replace Obamacare, but that doesn’t seem to exist. In a perfect world, Republicans could point to how much we’ve already invested in this scheme and show that we could have simply allocated money to buy all those people insurance plans on the traditional market for less money, but that’s a non-starter. Democrats would oppose it because it would signal an admission that Obamacare had failed. Conservatives would refuse it just because of the price tag and a lack of any way to fund it without continuing to drive up the debt.

No, at this point it’s probably better for both parties to treat Obamacare like the toad at the garden party and simply ignore it until after November.