Mitch McConnell’s appearance today on Fox News Sunday was remarkably revealing — it showed as clearly as you could want that the Supreme Court decision is finally forcing Republicans to declare what, exactly, they would replace Obamacare with if they realize their goal of repealing it entirely.
Pressed by Chris Wallace to say what he would do to insure the 30 million people who will get insurance under Obamacare, McConnell at first dodged the question, instead launching into a litany of complaints about the law. He repeated the debunked claim that it would cut $500 billion from Medicare. Asked the question again by Wallace, McConnell actually laughed, and said he’d “get to it in a minute,” before claiming the best thing we can do for the health system overall is to get rid of the law and all of its “cuts” to health providers. He labeled Obamacare a “monstrosity” and vowed that there would not be a “2,700 page” Republican reform bill.
Asked a third time how Republicans would insure those 30 million people, McConnell said: “That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step by step to improve the American health care system.”
The most charitable reading of McConnell’s quote is that he meant that Republicans see no need to come up up with a single overarching reform plan that would cover those millions of uninsured, and instead will advocate a step-by-step approach. But even Wallace saw McConnell’s quote in far less charitable terms:
WALLACE: You don’t think the 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?
MCCONNELL: Let me tell you what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to turn the American health care system into a western European system.
It’s worth pointing out that this is basically Mitt Romney’s position, too. The Romney campaign has acknowledged that he would not replace Obamacare with across-the-board protections for people with preexisting conditions. And the New York Times recently took a look at the alternatives Romney has proposed, and concluded that they would deemphasize the goal of “reducing the ranks of the uninsured.”
Republicans will try to continue to answer the core question on the table — if you repeal Obamacare, what would you replace it with? — by turning the focus back to the law itself. Republicans will continue, as they did in 2010, to run against Obama and Dems for cutting Medicare while simultaneously foisting a Big Government takeover on the health care system.
But it’s going to be harder to run against the whole law as some kind of vague “monstrosity,” as McConnell put it, now that it has been enshrined as constitutional by the High Court. As the conversation turns to the specifics in the law, and to the fact that Republicans wouldn’t replace them with anything, Republicans’ best hope will be that the law’s generalized unpopularity will enable them to persuade the American people that the question of whose policies would actually cover the uninsured is “not the issue.”