Opinion writer

Obamacare is back in the news again. Mitch McConnell is now claiming a GOP Senate majority will use the tool known as “reconciliation” to target the health law with simple majority votes. McConnell had previously suggested he wouldn’t go that route, sparking conservative cries of “surrender” that forced him to reverse course. Which makes this a preview of what to expect when conservatives demand maximum confrontation from the new GOP majority.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court today is privately deliberating whether to hear a major court challenge to the law’s subsidies. Jonathan Cohn has everything you need to know about how likely that is to happen, and as he points out, the courts are more likely to do real damage to the law than anything the Senate does.

But even if Obama will veto anything a GOP Senate passes, it does look like a new GOP majority will try to go after the law. To be sure, it’s always possible this is just Mitch McConnell blustering to the base. But even so, conservatives will claim the GOP won all because the public rose up en mass against Obummercare, and will exert intense pressure on the new majority to keep up the repeal crusade until the end of time. That won’t be at all what the elections mean, but there will be a tremendous push to sell this interpretation. Indeed, the war over the meaning of the elections will feed into how far a new GOP Senate majority will go against Obamacare.

Sahil Kapur explains what it would mean in procedural terms if the GOP majority goes this route:

One former longtime Senate parliamentarian said a majority leader could make a persuasive case for using reconciliation to repeal core components of Obamacare, many of which have budgetary impacts. That includes the premium tax credits that help lower-income Americans buy insurance. It might even include the individual mandate, given that the Congressional Budget Office has said scrapping the mandate would save money…

That sets up tension between the GOP’s establishment wing and the tea party wing…The big question is how far Republican leaders are willing to go, and whether they find the votes in the Senate and House to pass an anti-Obamacare bill and put it on Obama’s desk.

There will probably also be other varieties of repeal votes, too. So here’s my question: Is this really something that Republican Senators who are up for reelection in 2016 in blue and purple states are going to want?


The Senate map is dramatically different next cycle than it was this time. As Ed Kilgore notes, in 2016, Republicans are defending far more seats than Democrats are, in a number of states Obama won twice.

“Voting to repeal Obamacare outright, without a replacement, is a vote that a lot of Republicans who are up for reelection in states carried by Obama will not want to take,” Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the Cook Political Report, tells me. “They will fight having to take it. In some of these states, Obamacare has been successful, and the longer it’s in place, the more they’ll work the kinks out.”

Duffy cited as examples Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Mark Kirk in Illinois. There’s also Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.

Even now, in a national environment that heavily favors Republicans, the politics of Obamacare are already murky for Republicans. In New Hampshire, Senate candidate Scott Brown resorts to all sorts of rhetorical buffoonery to avoid saying what would happen to all those benefiting from the law there. The Medicaid expansion is moving forward in New Hampshire, and also in Ohio, where Governor John Kasich (who embraced the expansion) recently admitted the law is helping a lot of people. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett finally agreed to implement the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion (though he’s still toast for reelection), which means untold numbers there will be covered soon enough.

Even in southern states, amid a midterm electorate, Republicans like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Tom Cotton in Arkansas have fudged and evaded endlessly on whether they would really take the law’s benefits away from their state’s residents. Next year we’ll be talking about blue and purple states amid a presidential year electorate. So, yes, maybe the new GOP Senate majority will keep up the repeal crusade. How that goes over with Republican Senators in those states will tell us something about how the politics of Obamacare will really be playing nationally as we head into the next elections.


UPDATE: To be clear, if Republicans do targeted votes aimed at unpopular provisions of the law, such as the individual mandate, that could put some Democrats in a tough spot. (Obama would veto anything that seriously threatens the law.) But conservatives will presumably want the push for full repeal to continue, and votes for full repeal or votes targeting the coverage expansion might be tough for some Republicans up in 2016.