On Thursday night, the soon-to-be-Republican-controlled Congress got some great advice from Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Cut taxes on corporate income and on capital gains, urged the host. Secure the border with a high-tech fence, he counseled. Those are controversial ideas, but they’re at least straightforward.
Now consider how O’Reilly handled Obamacare: “It would be a bad idea to try to repeal Obamacare. President Obama will veto the attempt so it’s a complete waste of time. If a Republican gets elected President in 2016, then you repeal it. Remember there are some good things about Obamacare like insurance companies can’t throw you off the policy if you get sick. So the GOP should be patient on the Obamacare stuff.”
To start with the good stuff, O’Reilly is clearly on target about President Obama vetoing any repeal of his signature domestic initiative. That ends the good stuff.
The gist of O’Reilly’s suggestion is that Republicans should eventually pursue repeal of Obamacare, even though there are some good elements in the law. It almost reads as a call for Obamacare cherry-picking, which has something of a history inside the Beltway. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) last year, for example, took aim at what at less popular elements of Obamacare — like the mandate that individuals procure insurance — while stressing he wanted to keep intact the more popular elements, like the preexisting conditions requirement and the provision that children can stay on their parents’ plans up to age 26.
You can’t do that. As has been pointed out infinite times, Obamacare is a policy design that embodies trade-offs for insurance companies. In rebutting Lee’s attack on the law in a Salt Lake Tribune piece, Josh Kanter, founder of the Alliance for a Better Utah, put the deal in direct language:
Obamacare…was the result of a “grand bargain” made among the administration, Congress and the insurance industry, classically using various “carrots” and “sticks.” From Congress’ standpoint, the bargain included a carrot — the individual mandate. By requiring everyone to acquire insurance, the insurance companies wouldn’t be stuck with just the sickest among us. But with that carrot came some sticks — most notably, those items listed above which are already tremendously popular: elimination of pre-existing conditions, the increased age limitation, and elimination of the lifetime cap.
So when O’Reilly endorses certain attractive components of Obamacare, accordingly, he is effectively endorsing all of Obamacare, though you won’t hear him admitting as much.