Here’s more evidence — culled from a new interview with a leading GOP Senate candidate — that the GOP Obamacare repeal stance is deeply problematic, even in states where the law is very unpopular and has Dems on defense.
North Carolina is ground zero in the Obamacare wars. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity has already spent over $8 million in ads battering vulnerable Dem Senator Kay Hagan over the law. A Dem Super PAC is hitting back with an ad that blasts her likely GOP opponent — State Rep. Thom Tillis — for wanting to return to a time when insurance companies could discriminate against preexisting conditions and prescription drug costs for seniors were higher.
Now watch how Tillis responds to that charge in the interview. Tillis is asked whether he supports a proposal championed by Senator Richard Burr — also from his state — to replace Obamacare with an alternative that would supposedly reduce government spending and regulations while keeping the good parts of the ACA, i.e, consumer protections and expanded coverage.
Tillis responds by saying that of course he would replace Obamcare with something. But he makes two key concessions. While reiterating he supports repeal, he implicitly admits Obamacare’s core goals are worthy. And he adds: “Republicans need to communicate that we agree that there are serious health care issues among the American people that we need to solve”:
This is the GOP repeal dilemma. Tillis effectively concedes repeal alone is unsustainable. But he can’t bring himself to support the leading GOP alternative, referring to it as an “outline” worth considering. Indeed, when asked about this by Politifact, a Tillis spokesman would only say the Burr plan is a “positive step,” leading Politifact to conclude it is “mostly true” Tillis would go back to letting insurance companies discriminate against preexisting conditions.
One reason Tillis can’t fully embrace the Burr alternative may be that some conservatives are criticizing it. A FreedomWorks official says it isn’t real free market reform. Tillis’ Tea Party primary opponent, Greg Brannon, says the Burr plan is still “nationalized health care.” The Burr plan tries to give us the good parts of Obamacare, but in order to minimize the price, ends up doing so to a far lesser degree. Yet it’s still a nonstarter for Tea Partyers, because it represents even some — albeit far less — spending and regulation. That, combined with the fact that Republicans have endlessly attacked Obamacare’s disruptions, even though alternatives would also cause disruptions, will continue to constrain GOP candidates from embracing any alternatives.
The upshot: GOP candidates who understand that repeal alone is unsustainable — as Tillis clearly does — will not have an easy time escaping the implications of their own position. This gives Dems like Hagan a way to call for fixes to the law — achieving some distance from its problems — while blasting the opposition for wanting to go back to the old system, which is unpopular. It reframes the argument as flawed problem solving versus ideological hostility to government improving people’s lives.
Some pundits insist this doesn’t matter, that Republicans can simply run against Obamacare. But as the above interview suggests, Republicans will be increasingly pressed to account for the full implications of repeal and to say what they would offer instead. They will try to mouth support for the good stuff in the law while not embracing their own plan for as long as possible. Will that really work, in the crucible of Senate races, even as enrollment continues to climb?
Maybe. Obamacare remains unpopular — Hagan is on the defensive in polls — and is a liability for Democrats. But it’s increasingly apparent that the GOP repeal stance is untenable, and that there’s no easy escape from it. A leading GOP Senate candidate has now neatly demonstrated as much himself.