Very quietly, Republican politicians are giving up on their dream of repealing the President’s health care law.
After the doldrums of late August, the partial week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is one of the slowest weeks for news organizations out of the year. This might help explain how a number of prominent Republican politicians have given up on the GOP’s quest to repeal President Obama’s 2010 health care bill.
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a member of the Tea Party class of 2010, was recently featured in a New York Times article highlighting this sea change:
“It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and a Tea Party favorite. “There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.”
This is a pretty predictable outcome. While we spent much of the fall being treated to claims that Obamacare would “fail” or lead to the end of Obama’s presidency, repeal of the law was just never in the cards. All the incentives in Congress for the Democrats are, and have been, to stick with the law through thick and thin. Simply put since the Democrats voted for the bill in the first place, there’s no way they can ever credibly distance themselves from it compared to the Republicans who voted against it. Thus the reasonable calculation for Democrats in Congress is to stick with the law no matter what. And since Obama will be in the White House wielding his veto pen until January 2017, basically any change will have to be supported by Obama and the Democrats in Congress to become law. Which makes repeal of the Obama’s signature achievement just simply not possible.
After the 2016 elections repealing the law becomes technically possible, in the unlikely event that the GOP sweeps both chambers in Congress and takes the White House, but in practice it won’t happen either. As the same New York Times article points out, “And that underscores a central fact of American politics since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act during the Depression: Once a benefit has been bestowed, it is nearly impossible to take it away.”
This doesn’t mean that health care, or even the term “Obamacare”, will disappear from our political discourse any time soon. It just means that the new reality of things like mandates, exchanges, and subsidies for low income people will become part of the policy landscape. The same way that COBRA and Medicare became part of the landscape after they were enacted. Republicans and Democrats will continue to fight over health care, but they will be arguing about things like the level of subsidies that low income people in the exchanges should get and when people should become eligible for Medicaid.
Repeal of the whole law is dead, and quite frankly has been for some time.
Photo by southerntabitha/Flickr