Today House Republicans will hold yet another vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The vote is widely being seen as meaningless. As the Atlantic’s Russell Berman puts it:
They’re doing it for the freshmen — that is, the 47 House Republicans who just took office a month ago and have never had the high honor and privilege of voting to repeal Obamacare. By holding the vote, these lawmakers can head back to their districts and tell their constituents that yes, they did everything they could to get rid of the reviled law.
Added one GOP aide: “We’re just getting it out of the way.”
But today’s action amounts to more than just a symbolic gesture or checking a box. Today’s repeal vote comes in the context of a broad debate over the King v. Burwell challenge, which, if upheld by the Supreme Court, could yank subsidies and health coverage from millions and unleash untold disruptions in insurance markets across the country. The repeal vote is a reminder that the only consensus GOP position on health reform is to blow up Obamacare and replace it with nothing. That could have important implications for King v. Burwell.
Your humble blogger is not the only one pointing out these implications. Republican lawmakers believe that having some kind of consensus position of their own on health reform — one that purports to expand coverage — would make it easier for the Supreme Court to side with the challengers and gut subsidies. As Politico puts it this morning:
Some Republicans believe that having a plan — or the outlines of one — in place would send the Supreme Court the message that ruling against the White House won’t result in total chaos, particularly for those people who have already benefited from subsidies.
Similarly, conservative critics of Obamacare have urged Republicans to have an alternative in place in the event of such a ruling. Senate Republicans have also talked publicly about having a “fix” of some kind in place, though at a price.
As I have tediously repeated, this talk from lawmakers is likely part of a bait and switch designed to make the consequences of a decision siding with the challengers look less dire, thus making such a decision more likely. Indeed, the reality was nicely captured in that Politico piece by Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate health and education committee:
“We want to be responsible about repairing any damage that Obamacare does. If it creates a shock to the system by causing 5 million Americans suddenly to put their insurance and their subsidies at risk, then we need to think if there’s anything we need to do. Maybe there’s not.”
Maybe there’s not! Now, this doesn’t preclude Republicans from offering an alternative that doesn’t have anything to do with fixing the subsidy problem but purports to expand coverage in some other way. But it seems highly likely there won’t be any consensus alternative by the time the Supreme Court oral arguments take place next month. And as today’s repeal vote — symbolic or not — confirms, doing away with Obamacare subsidies for everyone in the country who is receiving them is the actual consensus GOP position.
Meanwhile, as Brian Beutler reports, a new brief filed by public health scholars predicts thousands of deaths could result from a decision gutting subsidies for millions. Now, perhaps the Justices won’t factor in such potential consequences — or the likely failure of Republicans to offer any alternative for all or some of those people — as they make their decision. But as noted above, even conservative and Republican critics of the law appear to think they just might.
* GOP OFFICIALS TIP-TOE AROUND VACCINE DEBATE: Jeremy Peters reports that Chris Christie’s suggestion that “balance” is required on the question of whether children should be vaccinated has highlighted a broader challenger GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates face:
The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives. It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools.
Thus the new GOP embrace of “Climate Non-Committalism.” Meanwhile, on vaccines, Hillary Clinton left no doubt where she stands, tweeting: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #VaccinesWork. Let’s protect all our kids.”
* REPUBLICANS GIRD FOR INTERNAL BATTLES OVER BUDGET: David Drucker has a good piece reporting that even as Republicans are criticizing Obama’s budget, they face some major challenges of their own in terms of passing their own budget, which will be critical to their efforts to prove they can govern:
The potential for intraparty divisions over the budget is high. House Republicans, with their ideologically gerrymandered districts, might prefer more aggressive spending cuts and entitlement reforms than Senate Republicans, many of whom are up for re-election in 2016 in blue states and swing territory…If Republicans can’t come to terms, they’ll blow their biggest chance to confront Obama and push federal policy in a more conservative direction.
If Republicans push a Paul-Ryan-style budget that supposedly reaches balance in 10 years with no new revenues, requiring savage cuts to programs that mostly help lower-income Americans, it’ll be interesting to see how Senate Republicans up for reelection in Obama states respond.
* SENATE TO VOTE ON MAXIMUM-DEPORTATIONS SCHEME: Today Senate Republicans will try to pass the House GOP plan to fund the Department of Homeland Security while rolling back Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportation. But Democrats will likely block it. Carl Hulse games out what’s next:
If Democrats are successful, as expected, Republicans will need to figure out their next move. Do they press the House bill? Do they come up with an alternative measure? Do they tell House conservatives that the immigration restrictions cannot pass the Senate and must be dropped? Do they allow the money to run out, or do they pass a short-term extension of funds?
Or another option might be, you know, passing some immigration reforms of their own? Meanwhile, a Texas court decision is expected any day now; it could very well put a stay on Obama’s actions, though what happens after that is unclear.
* ECONOMIC CONFIDENCE ON RISE: Gallup reports:
Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, which has been positive for each of the past six weeks, finished January with an average score of +3 — the first time a monthly average has been in positive territory since the recession. The monthly index score is up eight points from December — the highest month-to-month increase in more than a year.
Thank you, Mitch McConnell.
* HILLARY HOLDS LARGE LEADS IN KEY SWING STATES: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Hillary Clinton with large leads, often in the double digits, over all the major GOP presidential hopefuls in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Exceptions: It is much closer between her and Jeb Bush in Florida and with John Kasich in Ohio.
Obviously head-to-head polling this early is largely meaningless. So our policy around here will be to mention such polling in these roundups — expecting the reader to beware — while also flagging non-head-to-head data we think are interesting.
* NO, OBAMA DIDN’T PANDER TO THE ANTI-VAXXERS: Michael Hiltzik has the definitive takedown of this one.
* AND THE ZOMBIE OBAMACARE LIE THAT WON’T DIE: Republicans continue to say that under Obama, average family premiums have increased by over $4,000. Glenn Kessler demolishes the claim, noting that in reality, the rate of premium increases has actually slowed in recent years, though it’s too early to say whether it’s due to the ACA. Citing Kasier Family Foundation numbers, Kessler notes:
In the past five years (2009 to 2014), the increase has been 26 percent, compared to 34 percent in the preceding five-year period. If you want to compare presidents, the rate of increase in Obama’s first five years was 26 percent, compared to 66 percent in the first five years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Yes, yes, yes. But if a Republican talking point is debunked, and no one inside the Conservative Entertainment Complex acknowledges it, did the debunking ever really happen at all?