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The Morning Plum: The Obamacare trap

Republicans are under increasing pressure from conservatives to stage a government shutdown this fall to defund Obamacare. Dems will seize on the resulting drama to remind Americans that Republicans are more driven by pathological anti-Obamacare animus than by any desire to propose constructive solutions of their own. However unpopular Obamacare is, proposing to blow up reform and replace it with nothing meaningful may not be great politics, either.

What to do? Answer: Republicans are set to roll out another replacement for Obamacare. Roll Call reports:

The 173-member strong Republican Study Committee is on track to roll out legislation this fall that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act with a comprehensive alternative, Chairman Steve Scalise told CQ Roll Call on Thursday. […]
It would, however, have to pass muster with House Republican leaders, who have not yet been formally acquainted with the legislative text, according to Scalise. It would also likely need the blessing of outside advocacy groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, which could make or break the bill’s chances of passage.
The Louisiana Republican said the plan would include protections for people with pre-existing conditions — one of the main benefits of Obamacare.

That last bit is not surprising. As noted here yesterday, it may prove hard for Republicans to explain their unremitting repeal drive when constituents ask why they would take away specific provisions like the protections for people with preexisting conditions. The fact that the next GOP replace bill will include such protections (details are not yet available) only confirms this to be the case.

But here’s the problem. Republicans already proposed such a bill in April — but yanked it under conservative pressure. Eric Cantor tried to get fellow Republicans to accept a bill extending coverage to those with preexisting conditions, as part of his “Making Life Work” agenda, which was designed to make the GOP look interested in solving people’s problems. Conservatives strongly objected, claiming this constituted support for part of Obama’s agenda and could weaken the drive for full repeal.

The thinking this time is that the conservative Republican Study Committee will have a better shot at getting conservative support for a “replace” bill. But Republicans have been promising a “replace” agenda for literally years now. They campaigned on “repeal and replace” in 2010. In January of 2011 — over two years ago — five leading House Republicans published an op ed to great fanfare promising a Republican health care agenda. In May of 2012, Republicans pulled back from that promise, instead deciding that introducing a comprehensive Obamacare replacement was a mistake. Then came Cantor’s alternative last spring, which fell apart under conservative criticism.

If the same thing happens this fall, it will be a reminder that Republicans are caught in an Obamacare trap. They know proposing repeal while not offering a serious alternative is untenable. But when they do propose alternatives that would accomplish the popular parts of Obamacare, conservatives revolt, because they don’t want to sap the repeal-Obamacare drive of its energy and don’t want to legitimize an interventionist role for government. Which just highlights what Republicans are trying to obscure in the first place: the party is in the grip of an anti-Obamacare animus that has come unhinged from any normal policy considerations, and doesn’t envision a meaningfully constructive role for government in solving our health care problems.

* OBAMA SHOULD ADDRESS NSA SURVEILLANCE REVELATIONS: The New York Times has a good editorial ripping the Obama administration over new revelations that NSA surveillance is more intrusive than we even knew, noting that the scanning of Americans’ communications “shreds a common-sense understanding of the Fourth Amendment.”

Obama is holding a presser today, so one hopes he will signal real movement towards NSA reform — in the direction of more transparency at a minimum — rather than resort to the usual platitudes about how we need a “conversation.” It’ll also be interesting to see if he signals openness to changes to the programs themselves.

* CONSERVATIVES ARE SERIOUS ABOUT THIS GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN STUFF: CNN reports that Republican leaders are realizing they need to take this seriously (link fixed):

Party elders appear increasingly concerned — alarmed, even — by an upstart effort by a new band of conservative lawmakers who want to shut down the federal government to protest the president’s signature health care law, Obamacare.

But again, why are they surprised that conservatives are serious about this, given that party leaders themselves have been feeding the base’s repeal fantasies for literally years now?


“With respect to the 11 million, I am open to an earned, arduous journey to legal status, and for some, that will be citizenship.”

That’s not quite what reform proponents want to hear — it could mean he’s only willing to embrace citizenship for DREAMers — but anything that shows Republicans grappling with the issue, and trying to move off the GOP’s previous anti-amnesty-at-all-costs position, is potentially positive.

* DO 40-50 HOUSE REPUBLICANS SUPPORT REFORM? Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who has been talking to Republicans about immigration for months, claims 40 to 50 House Republicans actually support comprehensive reform, and characterizes what they have said to him privately this way:

“I want to be able to vote for it. I really don’t need to draw attention to myself.”

This is a key dynamic to watch. If enough House Republicans privately want reform to pass, it could be easier for John Boehner to allow a vote on something that would pass with mostly Dems, though this remains a real long shot.

* THE GOP’S CHOICE ON IMMIGRATION REFORM: Jamelle Bouie frames it nicely:

What kind of party does the GOP want to be? Does it want to be one that can reflect a more diverse group of constituents, who may share similar interests but come from different perspectives? Or does it want to remain a redoubt for a shrinking minority of older whites? The GOP’s choice on immigration reform won’t answer the question, but it will push them in one direction or another.

As always, this is up to Republican leaders. They can get this passed if they want to.

* ERIC CANTOR TO ALLY WITH DEMS ON VOTING RIGHTS? An interesting tidbit from the Hill: Eric Cantor is privately in talks with Dems about fixes to the Voting Right Act that would replace anti-discrimination provisions in the wake of the Supreme Court decision gutting them. As noted above, Cantor has previously advanced efforts to soften the GOP’s image, only to be smacked down by conservatives. In this case, the outcome could be the same — as the Hill notes, only a handful of Republicans have even suggested changes to the VRA — but Cantor’s move is noteworthy.

* AND NO, UNCERTAINTY ISN’T HOLDING BACK THE ECONOMY: Paul Krugman takes note of a new study debunking the ubiquitous GOP claim that Obama Uncertainty is what’s holding back the recovery, and links it to the party’s embrace of fraudulent economic doctrines:

I can’t think of a time when a party’s economic doctrine has been so completely divorced from reality. And I’m also struck by the extent to which Republican-leaning economists — who have to know better — have been willing to lend their credibility to the party’s official delusions. Partly, no doubt, this reflects the party’s broader slide into its own insular intellectual universe. Large segments of the G.O.P. reject climate science and even the theory of evolution, so why expect evidence to matter for the party’s economic views?

Meanwhile, GOP leaders seem to have left large swaths of the GOP base convinced that government spending is the single greatest threat to the future of civilization, with the possible exception of Obamacare, whose eventual destruction is always right around the corner.

What else?