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Morning Plum: Some welcome GOP candor on Obamacare

The possibility that the Supreme Court could gut Obamacare subsidies to millions of people in three dozen states on the federal exchange is — kinda sorta, anyway — forcing a debate among Republicans over whether they should be prepared to respond with policy alternatives. Some argue having an alternative or a “fix” ready will make it easier for SCOTUS to strike down the law, while other conservatives genuinely want GOP lawmakers to get serious about hashing out their own health reform ideas.

One can even imagine that debate spilling over into the 2016 GOP presidential primary — and, more broadly, into the general election.

Conservative writer Philip Klein is out with a new book in which he discusses this quandary and what Republicans should do about it. Klein reports on a meeting between conservatives and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — a potential 2016 presidential candidate — in which Jindal offers usefully revealing quotes that nicely preview this debate:

“I don’t think conservative health care reform is about, we’re going to compete with [the left] in terms of how many people we see have an [insurance] care,” he said. “That not the ultimate goal.”
He later elaborated, “If we start with the premise that we’ve gotta give every single person a card, and that’s the only way we can be successful, we’re done. We’ve adopted their metric of success…if the metric of success is gonna be which plan can say ‘we’ve given people more cards,’ they always win. Because they will always spend more, they will always disrupt more.”…
He also put it this way: “I do think it’s a mistake if we argue we can’t take back what Obama has already given.”

Points for candor are due. As this blog tediously documented, Republicans have long played a very clever game on the Affordable Care Act. They have regularly claimed that of course they are for repealing that hated thing they call “Obamacare.” But the same time, they’ve carefully left the impression that even if Republicans get their way, people will somehow be able to keep components of it they like, such as the coverage guarantee — an impression they’ve created by openly supporting the law’s key goals or dangling the possibility of some phantom GOP alternative that would do the same thing. Jindal, refreshingly, suggests Republicans should be willing to admit they support “taking back what Obama has already given.”

Republicans have long been able to fulminate in favor of eliminating Obamacare, secure in the knowledge that its benefits aren’t going to be taken away from people and that they’d remain insulated from the political consequences of such an outcome. (Even some right-leaning writers have criticized this dodge.)

A SCOTUS decision against the law could upend that dynamic. At that point, the decisions of GOP lawmakers on how to proceed could suddenly have practical consequences for millions. GOP state legislators could set up their own exchanges to keep subsidies flowing, or the GOP Congress could agree to a simple fix. By contrast, not doing those things could mean millions lose coverage and other major disruptions.

If SCOTUS guts the subsidies, we might see a fight between Republicans who want to agree to fix the problem to avoid a backlash, and others — such as Jindal — arguing that Republicans shouldn’t fear the politics of supporting an alternative (whatever that turns out to be) that doesn’t even bother competing with Obamacare’s coverage expansion. All this might suddenly figure in the 2016 presidential race, with GOP candidates (and Dems) positioning themselves around the question of how (or whether) to fix the law or embrace some alternative that would re-expand coverage in the wake of whatever the decision does to the law.

Alternatively, keep an eye on another possibility: For some Republicans the talk of being ready to go with a “fix” or an alternative may simply prove a ruse designed to make the consequences of a SCOTUS decision against the law appear less dire — making such a decision more likely.

Some conservatives clearly want such a decision and the debate over alternatives that might result. But how many GOP lawmakers actually want that debate? How many would prefer SCOTUS not force them into it? That question brings us to our next item.


* GOP STATES COOL TO ANTI-OBAMACARE LAWSUIT? Abby Goodnaugh has a must-read documenting that only six states with GOP governors (out of 31 total) have signed on to the lawsuit that could badly damage Obamacare. By contrast, many more signed onto the initial suit that failed (mostly) to knock down the law in 2012.

This raises the possibility that many of these states — in spite of declining to set up exchanges — don’t actually want SCOTUS to gut subsidies to their own constituents. After all, this could yank coverage from millions and wreak havoc on insurance markets — putting pressure on them to solve the problem, pressure they may not want.

* MODERATES BALK AT GOP’S IMMIGRATION PLAN: Here’s something tow atch: Some moderate GOP Senators are balking at the House GOP’s new plan to roll back Obama’s move on deportations by picking a fight around funding of the Department of Homeland Security, and moderate Dem Senators are doing the same.

That last development is heartening, since some advocates worried moderate Dems might side with the GOP, forcing a presidential veto. But all this would seem to suggest Republicans may not be able to get this through the Senate. Conservatives would demand the confrontation continue, and what happens next remains unclear.

* GOP GOVERNORS NOT SURE HOW CONSERVATIVE THEY WANT TO BE: The New York Times reports that a number of Republican governors are showing reluctance to embrace the hard line agenda that many conservatives want them to embrace. Some are refraining from adopting fiscal policies that are quite as onerous as those of Kansas governor Sam Brownback; others are pulling back from education cuts; and still others are actually mulling their own versions of the Medicaid expansion.

The 2014 elections showed in multiple places — Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina — that the hard-right turn we’re seeing on the state level can survive electoral backlashes. The question now is whether it can actually be sustained.

* KEEP AN EYE ON POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA: Just in from the Associated Press:

BREAKING: US official: Cuba has completed release of 53 political prisoners as part of deal with US.

Obviously we need more detail. But many critics of Obama’s move to normalized relations with Cuba have fairly asked whether it will do any good, asking in particular whether Cuba will release those political prisoners. So this bears watching (as do reactions to it from those critics).

* HOW OBAMA SEES HIS FINAL TWO YEARS: E.J. Dionne looks at Obama’s new push for free community college and other recent moves, and rightly concludes:

Obama is signaling how he sees his role during the last two years of his time in office: Yes, he needs to govern. But he also needs to put forward a long-term agenda that those who seek a fairer country can fight for after his term is over.

Indeed. Note how Obama’s executive actions, all of which Hillary Clinton has embraced, and all of which Republicans oppose, are already framing the coming 2016 contest.

* STOP EXAGGERATING DEM DIFFERENCES OVER ECONOMY: Danny Vinik has a good piece arguing that commentators are exaggerating the differences among Dems over the economy, with too much credence being given to the idea that Obama and Elizabeth Warren are at odds. There are actual policy differences, for sure, but there is a lot of overlap, and broadly speaking, Democrats largely agree on the nature of the problem: Stagnating wages and a recovery whose gains are flowing to the top. At any rate, the disagreement that does exist is a good thing.

* AND KEYSTONE BACKERS PUSH ‘CARBONIZED KEYNESIANISM’: Paul Krugman notes that Republicans who won’t support government spending on infrastructure to create jobs are precisely the same people who insist we must build Keystone for the good of the economy. Their argument, Krugman notes, is similar to the “weaponized Keynesianism” of those who back defense spending because cutting it would lead to job cutbacks elsewhere:

The argument being made for Keystone XL is very similar; call it “carbonized Keynesianism….If Mr. McConnell and company really believe that we need more spending to create jobs, why not support a push to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure?

Meanwhile, GOP leaders are opposed to raising the gas tax to fund highway projects, which would help the economy, and is favored by many business interests, just as Keystone is.