Why the GOP Can't 'Repeal and Replace' Obamacare

The only thing Republican leaders appear to have in common with one another is disdain for President Obama.

And while that antipathy may have carried a majority into both houses of Congress in the latest midterm, they are already demonstrating the foundational faults in the party that are going to prevent them from effectively acting on their supposed majority.

The Republican problem is that they are too ideologically fractured to work together, and “Not Obama” doesn’t actually constitute productive policy -- only a starting point for getting the country back on track after too many years of stagnation, political and economic.

The best example of this intra-party disorganization is actually visible in the current effort to propose, finally, a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare.

The signature legislation of the Obama presidency has been the single-greatest rallying cry for conservatives since it first gained traction in his first term. Party voices almost began to harmonize in their calls for a plan to ‘repeal and replace’ Obama’s destructive namesake policy.

At long last, the new Republican legislative majority, coupled with a promising Supreme Court challenge to one of the central tenets of Obamacare -- the subsidies granted on exchanges not created by states -- has given Republican leaders a unique opportunity not just to undo the health law, but provide their own replacement plan.

Several prominent party leaders have risen to the challenge, publicly announcing and disseminating their alternative plans. Far from reassuring, however, these conservative vanity projects have as much chance of obstructing a repeal of Obamacare as they do for actually replacing it.

The plans have much in common: they all predicate themselves on a wholesale repeal of Obamacare; in the words of Senator Ted Cruz, “Every last word of Obamacare must be repealed.” In fact, Senator Cruz’s plan (the Health Care Choice Act of 2015) does not repeal the entirety of Obamacare, but focuses on its most controversial features: the failure to allow individuals to buy insurance from out of state, the employer mandate, and of course, the individual insurance mandate, all elements of Title I of the Affordable Care Act.

Actually, this is one of the features common to all of the plans brought forth by Republicans so far: the sponsors demonize Obamacare, pontificate on its evils and the need for its immediate repeal, then detail the many things it apparently got right in their eyes by effectively reinstating them under the guise of a new plan:

  • State exchanges (not the current, terrible ones, but new, fundamentally similar ones)
  • No denial of coverage for preexisting conditions
  • Dependents can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26
  • Tax Credits to help people afford insurance (rather than Obama-esque ‘subsidies’)

The GOP is paralyzed by factions, sprinkled along the spectrum from Moderate to Hardline Conservative. This is hardly news, but becomes newly relevant given the fact that it could derail their efforts to take Obamacare off the table. Details matter to the current Congress, and despite the broad similarities among the rival plans, the particular differences between them could well prevent any single plan from attracting the broad support among the party -- to say nothing of their peers across the aisle -- necessary to pass.

There is a presidential election coming up -- undoubtedly, many of the legislators authoring health reform plans want their name to be the one associated with finally dethroning Obamacare. Indeed, the list of co-sponsors for the Senate plan as well as the House plan features many names frequently touted as presidential contenders for 2016. Even a failed attempt would put fuel in the tank of a presidential election campaign.

If the Republicans in Congress had a better track record of working together, advancing conservative policy without such profound attachment to their personal interpretation of the minutiae of what ‘conservative’ really is, the country might have a hope of seeing the best elements of all their plans integrated into a final alternative to Obamacare. That precedent for cooperation is sadly lacking -- and undermines any hope that a new plan will emerge.

The airtime and broad base support Republican leaders have enjoyed for railing against Obama’s every word and deed have taught them to avoid compromise, not only with Democrats, but with the increasingly entrenched branches of their own party. Speaker John Boehner’s failure to rally his supposed majority to vote on the Homeland Security budget bill previewed this handicap.

Partisanship has been the catchall for describing why Washington no longer functions; for Republicans, the divisions don’t yet have fully formed party lines, but come to the same result: a patchwork of disjointed platforms, objectives, and ultimately, legislative plans, unwilling to blend together to advance.

Republicans have shown admirable creativity and preparation in coming out with their Obamacare replacements -- especially compared to the current administration, which has bet everything on a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court. Republicans, at least, acknowledge the chance that Obamacare may be dealt a deathblow by an alternative ruling, necessitating a readily available alternative that can be passed, implemented, and used to cover the President’s failure.

What they don’t appear to have accounted for is each other.

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