Senate GOP mulls options if Obamacare repeal fails

It has not been a good summer for Republican Senators in Washington.  So far, they have failed to come up with a viable plan to replace Obamacare with something their caucus can agree on.

In fact, they aren't even close.

Recall that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to have a vote on an Obamacare replacement bill by the 4th of July.  But Independence Day has come and gone, and the various factions are still far apart on what to do about health care reform.

There are too many sticking points to mention, so it may be easier to list what the GOP agrees on – mostly.

1. Repeal or neutralize the individual mandate that forces everyone to purchase insurance.

2. Repeal most or all of Obamacare's taxes.

3. Leave most coverage mandates up to the states to keep or lose.

The biggest problem is that there is so little room for error.  With only 52 Republican votes, there can be only two GOP defectors if a bill is to pass.  Democrats are united in complete opposition to any plan the Republicans bring to the floor for a vote.

It appears to many observers that Republicans will be unable to bridge their differences, which means they must have a "Plan B" to fall back on if it comes to that.

The Hill:

Lawmakers are largely splitting into two camps: those who want to work with Democrats on a fix to the healthcare law, and those who want to simply pass a straight repeal of the law and work on a replacement later.

While conservatives are mainly behind the second option, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made waves on Thursday by saying that his party could work with Democrats to stabilize ObamaCare markets if the repeal bill fails. 

"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur," McConnell said.

McConnell's comments could have been a intended as message to conservatives who are opposed to the repeal bill, suggesting they will like the result even less if the GOP has to work with Democrats. 

Indeed, McConnell warned late last month that, "my suspicion is that any negotiation with the Democrats would include none of the reforms that we would like to make."

Nonetheless, Democrats seized on McConnell's comments. They said McConnell has now acknowledged that ObamaCare markets can be fixed and that the law is not collapsing and beyond repair, contrary to the arguments that Republicans have been making for years.

Some Republican senators have even expressed eagerness to work with Democrats on a healthcare bill. 

In announcing her opposition to the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill last month, centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pointed to the millions of people who would lose coverage under the Republican bill and wrote on Twitter: "I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA." 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has also been pushing for a bipartisan fix. "Let's stabilize the markets, then work long term on a bipartisan solution to actually fix the healthcare system," he said last month.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CBS on Sunday that the GOP bill is "probably going to be dead."

The logical way forward for Republicans is to repeal Obamacare outright and then work on a replacement.  As many conservatives have pointed out, the moderates voted for outright repeal once already – in December 2015.  But logic has nothing to do with this debate, so the various factions continue to be at loggerheads.

McConnell is dreaming if the thinks the Democrats will help the GOP out of this mess.  Any "bipartisan" effort to "stabilize the markets" would be met with solid opposition from both conservatives and the far left of the Democratic Party.  Dems want to humiliate the GOP and force them to beg for help.  They will absolutely refuse to consider any GOP reforms and will make sure any health care bill doesn't touch Obamacare's major coverage provisions, mandates, and taxes, not to mention Medicaid expansion.

The problem for Republicans has always been that Obamacare has managed to wrap its tentacles around the entire health care system so that trying to disentangle parts of it leads to politically unpalatable outcomes.  The law had a six-year head start to establish itself, and during that time, President Obama and the Democrats made sure that repealing Obamacare would involve pain for consumers who would lose their subsidy or be thrown off their insurance.

Faced with the prospect of angering consumers or angering their base, Senate Republicans have become paralyzed with political fear, unable to move toward any resolution.  This is probably how it will stand when McConnell gives up on Obamacare and moves on to other agenda items like tax reform. 

It has not been a good summer for Republican Senators in Washington.  So far, they have failed to come up with a viable plan to replace Obamacare with something their caucus can agree on.

In fact, they aren't even close.

Recall that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to have a vote on an Obamacare replacement bill by the 4th of July.  But Independence Day has come and gone, and the various factions are still far apart on what to do about health care reform.

There are too many sticking points to mention, so it may be easier to list what the GOP agrees on – mostly.

1. Repeal or neutralize the individual mandate that forces everyone to purchase insurance.

2. Repeal most or all of Obamacare's taxes.

3. Leave most coverage mandates up to the states to keep or lose.

The biggest problem is that there is so little room for error.  With only 52 Republican votes, there can be only two GOP defectors if a bill is to pass.  Democrats are united in complete opposition to any plan the Republicans bring to the floor for a vote.

It appears to many observers that Republicans will be unable to bridge their differences, which means they must have a "Plan B" to fall back on if it comes to that.

The Hill:

Lawmakers are largely splitting into two camps: those who want to work with Democrats on a fix to the healthcare law, and those who want to simply pass a straight repeal of the law and work on a replacement later.

While conservatives are mainly behind the second option, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made waves on Thursday by saying that his party could work with Democrats to stabilize ObamaCare markets if the repeal bill fails. 

"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur," McConnell said.

McConnell's comments could have been a intended as message to conservatives who are opposed to the repeal bill, suggesting they will like the result even less if the GOP has to work with Democrats. 

Indeed, McConnell warned late last month that, "my suspicion is that any negotiation with the Democrats would include none of the reforms that we would like to make."

Nonetheless, Democrats seized on McConnell's comments. They said McConnell has now acknowledged that ObamaCare markets can be fixed and that the law is not collapsing and beyond repair, contrary to the arguments that Republicans have been making for years.

Some Republican senators have even expressed eagerness to work with Democrats on a healthcare bill. 

In announcing her opposition to the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill last month, centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) pointed to the millions of people who would lose coverage under the Republican bill and wrote on Twitter: "I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA." 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has also been pushing for a bipartisan fix. "Let's stabilize the markets, then work long term on a bipartisan solution to actually fix the healthcare system," he said last month.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CBS on Sunday that the GOP bill is "probably going to be dead."

The logical way forward for Republicans is to repeal Obamacare outright and then work on a replacement.  As many conservatives have pointed out, the moderates voted for outright repeal once already – in December 2015.  But logic has nothing to do with this debate, so the various factions continue to be at loggerheads.

McConnell is dreaming if the thinks the Democrats will help the GOP out of this mess.  Any "bipartisan" effort to "stabilize the markets" would be met with solid opposition from both conservatives and the far left of the Democratic Party.  Dems want to humiliate the GOP and force them to beg for help.  They will absolutely refuse to consider any GOP reforms and will make sure any health care bill doesn't touch Obamacare's major coverage provisions, mandates, and taxes, not to mention Medicaid expansion.

The problem for Republicans has always been that Obamacare has managed to wrap its tentacles around the entire health care system so that trying to disentangle parts of it leads to politically unpalatable outcomes.  The law had a six-year head start to establish itself, and during that time, President Obama and the Democrats made sure that repealing Obamacare would involve pain for consumers who would lose their subsidy or be thrown off their insurance.

Faced with the prospect of angering consumers or angering their base, Senate Republicans have become paralyzed with political fear, unable to move toward any resolution.  This is probably how it will stand when McConnell gives up on Obamacare and moves on to other agenda items like tax reform. 

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