April 7
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

By now you may have heard that John Boehner’s office rushed to reassure conservatives today that the House GOP goal remains the full repeal of Obamacare, after it was reported that Republicans committed the apostasy of agreeing to support a mere “fix” to the law.

The short version of the tale is that the Associated Press reported that House Republicans and Dems had agreed to do away with the cap on deductibles for small group policies inside the exchanges, giving small businesses more flexibility in the plans they can offer, a change sought by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

After Drudge spun this as evidence that House Republicans had agreed to — gasp! — expand the law, Boehner’s office quickly put out a statement claiming Republicans had actually succeeded in repealing a part of it. Dems had agreed to this change, believing it improves the law, making this a bipartisan fix. But as Steve Benen notes, the fact that this sparked an outcry among Obamacare foes is a reminder that for them, the only acceptable goal is “to make the ACA as punishing and ineffective as possible, in the process creating demand for destroying the law in its entirety.”

Indeed, this fix is an example of the sort of conventional negotiating over Obamacare’s future we might see more of from Republicans if they ever do abandon the Total War posture against the law that has been the only acceptable position for years now.

Last year, when Republican certainty in Obamacare’s collapse had not yet collided with the reality of millions of sign-ups, business lobbyists who were seeking fixes to the law were already complaining that the GOP position — only the total destruction of the law is acceptable — would imperil the possibility of securing the sort of fixes that are routinely performed after major legislation passes.

More recently, we’ve seen a thaw. Last month, 18 House Republicans, including some hard core conservatives, signed a letter seeking minor changes to HealthCare.Gov to ease enrollment, a break from those who have pledged not to help constituents with the law. One Republican signatory offered this heresy as justification: “the law’s in place, and if our constituents are going to be penalized for it, the federal government ought to make it work.” A handful of GOP-controlled states, meanwhile, have agreed to the Medicaid expansion on their own terms. Now Republicans have agreed to this latest fix sought by business.

The news that the law has hit seven million signups — followed by Gallup’s finding that the rate of uninsured continues to fall — suggest the law is more or less on track as intended, so theoretically you could see more of a GOP willingness to negotiate for mere changes that fall short of the law’s total elimination.

Earlier this year, I speculated that Republicans might eventually pass through “Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance.” Right now, it looks as if they are somewhere between Step Two (a genuine recognition that large numbers of people are benefitting from the law) and Step Three (a tacit or overt acceptance that it is all but certainly here to stay). Presuming the law does work over time and is here to stay in roughly its current form — which isn’t certain but is looking more likely — there really is a range of policy compromises both sides could agree upon if Republicans do begin seeking more incremental changes to the law they want. But today’s episode is a reminder of just how hard it might be to get to that point.