If you talk to Democratic strategists, they’d tell you that Republicans have run themselves into a box canyon on health care. John Boehner yesterday said that the party would make repealing the Affordable Care Act their number one priority in the midterm elections, and while others have tried to shy away from a firm stand on repeal, the base simply won’t let them get away with anything less. And so they have to press forward with quixotic lawsuits or spin silly tales about gaining 26 Senate votes in one election or forcing a government shutdown to defund the law, or any number of unwise strategies. Democrats absolutely think they have the GOP right where they want them, as evidenced by Chris Van Hollen’s response:
“It is stunning that House Republicans will make their number one priority repealing benefits and rights for Americans, raising taxes, and turning our health care system back over to insurance companies. Not only does this legislation improve our health care system, it will also reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over 20 years, create millions of jobs, and provide small business owners with important tax credits. The House Republican leadership should start saying no to the special interests of the health insurance industry, and starting saying yes to American families by working with us to create jobs and get the economy back on track.”
From a substantive level, Van Hollen may be right, and anyway the logic of actually pulling off repeal is kind of baffling. From a political level I’m not so sure. The Affordable Care Act remains generally unpopular, though up from its all-time lows. And very little in the bill will come online between now and the elections – actually, between now and 2014 – to change that. In fact, some states will see to that personally:
ATLANTA — Georgia’s insurance commissioner says the state won’t participate in the first phase of a new federal health care law that would offer subsidized premiums to people with health problems.
Republican John Oxendine said Georgia should not take part in the creation of an insurance pool, backed by $5 billion in federal money, that would help high-risk people who have been uninsured for at least six months.
Federal health officials said they will run a coverage program in the state if Georgia doesn’t take part.
Oxendine is – say it with me – running for Governor, and therefore has to play to the base. The point is that the high-risk pool, already too meager to be effective, will be less so without state participation (I don’t know what this federal “coverage program” is about, and I don’t even think that the feds have the authority under the law to enact it). The practical effect of this kind of intransigence is simply to sour people on the law even more. Families who can keep their kids on their insurance until age 26 excepted, very few others will see tangible benefits soon. And that means a strategy of repeal, on the grounds that the law “hasn’t helped,” is certainly plausible as a political tactic. Watch the Republicans blame rate hikes on Democrats in the next several months, too.
As for overpromising, I don’t think that has ever lost a political party an election. The Democrats won by overpromising in 2006 – four years later, we’re still in Iraq.
There’s certainly a way for Democrats to counteract this, and it mainly involves letting Republicans reveal their true selves with respect to health care. Whether it’s Sue Lowden asserting that patients should haggle with doctors for lower prices, or Roy Blunt asserting that insurers should be allowed to discriminate and deny coverage to the sick, Democrats need only allow Republicans to talk themselves into trouble on health care, and have them remind the nation why they didn’t trust them to fix this crisis in the first place.
But the strategist who tells you that they’re setting a “repeal trap” for Republicans had better worry about the very real problems with slow implementation and the design of the bill, lest they get trapped themselves.