The other day I noted that Thom Tillis, the expected GOP candidate for Senate in North Carolina, has been struggling to explain his stance on Obamacare — he knows repeal is a non-starter because the goals of Obamacare remain popular, but isn’t willing to embrace any alternatives. Tillis’s equivocations — which capture the problems with the GOP repeal stance in general — have taken a pounding in the North Carolina press.

Now North Carolina Dems have unearthed a radio interview Tillis gave which again illuminates the problem here. It contains this wonderful quote about the ACA:

“It’s a great idea that can’t be paid for.”

In the interview, from February, Tillis insists he’s gung ho for repeal, saying: “If we could effectively nullify and repeal Obamacare in North Carolina, we would do it.” Then, asked whether he supports home state Senator Richard Burr’s replace plan — the leading GOP alternative — Tillis demurs. But he confirms he supports “dealing with preexisting conditions” and “dealing with some sort of safety net for people with catastrophic loss,” adding that “Republicans want to solve the problem” and that “we’re not just saying No to Obamacare.” Then he says:

“I think there’s a lot of things we can do if we focus on a systemic approach to eliminating the bad, and the majority of the stuff that is in Obamacare is bad, because it’s not fiscally sustainable. It’s a great idea that can’t be paid for.”

Since then, Tillis has continued to refrain from endorsing the Burr alternative. After all, Tillis’ Tea Party primary opponent, Greg Brannon, continues to attack him for allowing some Obamacare goals are reasonable. Says Brannon: “Tell career politician Thom Tillis that OBAMACARE IS WRONG, PERIOD!”

I’ve already detailed here and here why this sort of thing suggests serious flaws in the GOP repeal stance. Tillis’ quote is particularly noteworthy, though. Republicans want credit for embracing the good stuff in Obamacare (since repeal is unpopular and risks signaling to swing voters that Republicans just want to go back to the old system) while also bashing the overall law as #Obummer Big Gummint Spending run amok, which they are claiming as their mandate in the midterms, which tend to be about the president in office.

But as Jonathan Cohn has explained, if you want the good stuff in Obamacare, it has to be paid for. Which the law does, while reducing the deficit.

To be clear, Senator Kay Hagan’s approval has dropped, and in an overall sense the fundamentals are such that Republicans may be able to win the Senate even as multiple GOP candidates remain vague on “repeal and replace.” But as enrollment continues to mount, making “repeal” even less tenable, this balance could prove tougher and tougher to pull off without descending into utter gibberish.

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UPDATE: Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for the Tillis campaign, emails over the following response:

Speaker Tillis was referring to the fact that Obamacare is like so many other ideas that come from Washington that include big promises but no way to pay for them. Democrats think Obamacare is a great idea, but they offer no way to pay for it, and they don’t mind driving up costs for people who have good coverage. When Washington doesn’t pay for an idea, it’s a bad idea, no matter what promises they include. That’s what he meant by his comments in their entirety and context, and it is obvious when reading the full comment and judging Speaker Tillis’ track record of opposition to Obamacare.

Here’s the full Tillis quote:

I think there’s a lot of things we can do if we focus on a systematic approach to eliminating the bad, and the majority of the stuff that is in Obamacare is bad, because it’s not fiscally sustainable. It’s a great idea that can’t be paid for. Let’s focus on the net problem versus a policy that’s creating as many problems as it fixes in terms of healthcare, and then it’s also creating the most devastating problem of a deficit and debt that we can’t afford.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.