There’s a lot of media chatter out there this morning to the effect that Congressional Republicans are really, truly going to offer their own health reforms this time around, now that the Supreme Court may gut subsidies for millions of people in three dozen states. I’ve already repeated endlessly that these GOP feints appear designed to create the impression that lawmakers will step in to ensure that such disruptions might not be all that dire, perhaps to make it easier for the Court to rule against the ACA, a dance that two conservative justices (Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia) engaged in at oral arguments this week.

But here’s a simpler way to make the point. The highest-profile promise of a contingency plan for those who might lose subsidies came this week in a Wall Street Journal piece authored by three House Republicans — Paul Ryan, John Kline, and Fred Upton. In that piece, the three Republicans didn’t just promise that there will be some form of temporary relief for those millions of people; they also vowed to use a Court decision gutting subsidies as a jumping off point to produce a GOP reform alternative that will make “high-quality, affordable coverage within closer reach for all.” In other words, the Republican plan to expand coverage to everyone.

Those same three House GOP committee chairmen have promised a comprehensive GOP reform alternative before (a hat tip to Jonathan Bernstein for remembering this), perhaps most notably in a U.S.A. Today piece some time ago:

We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative. We reject the premise that the only way to improve access to quality coverage is to dramatically expand the federal government’s reach into our lives. On the contrary, we are dedicated to solving the underlying problems in health care by prioritizing affordability, improving transparency, and creating a true, functioning marketplace for health insurance.

The committees we lead will tackle these challenges with the seriousness and steadfastness of purpose they deserve. We will pursue changes on which there is widespread agreement as we seek to meet the monumental challenges of a nation on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory. We will look to governors to explore how greater flexibility would empower them to hold down costs and pursue innovative strategies for delivering care. Above all, we will listen to the American people and fix what’s broken with health care, without breaking what’s working.

Repeal is the first, not the last step. Compassionate, innovative and job-creating health care reform is what’s next.

That piece ran in January of 2011 — 50 months ago. As Bernstein notes:

It isn’t that Republicans can’t generate ideas for reforming health care: Philip Klein has a whole book about them. But any plan requires trade-offs, which would entail considerable political risk. And it would require hard work on policy, something that Republicans in general and House Republicans in particular have shown zero interest in over, say, the last decade or so.

Nor have they shown any ability to reach anything approaching consensus around any alternative, a prospect that should now appear even dimmer, given the Congressional chaos around Homeland Security funding. And with Alito conspicuously floating the possibility of staying any Court decision nixing subsidies to the end of the year, let’s remember that it could get politically harder, not easier, for Republicans to reach any such consensus once the GOP presidential primary kicks into high gear later this year.

Perhaps we should celebrate the 50-month anniversary of the GOP vow of an alternative by showing a bit of skepticism towards similar claims being made over four years later.


* A GOOD JOBS REPORT! The February jobs numbers are in:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 295,000 in February, and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today…over the past three months, job gains have averaged 288,000 per month.

* BUT KEEP AN EYE ON WAGES: Danny Vinik offers a cautionary note about the new jobs numbers:

Yet, despite those strong topline numbers, the underlying details were disappointing. Wages, the key metric that economists are watching to determine the slack in the labor market, ticked up just 0.1 percent. Over the past year, they’ve grown 2 percent.

* ‘FEDERALISM’ ARGUMENT GAINS MOMENTUM: In oral arguments, Anthony Kennedy signaled deep federalism concerns about siding with the King challengers’ interpretation of the ACA, because it imposes retroactive consequences on states (lost coverage for millions; imploding insurance markets) without clear warning. There are great pieces on why the Court must side with the government on federalism grounds from Abbe Gluck, Nick Bagley, and Michael Dorf, meaning the idea has momentum in the legal community.

I previously quoted a Kennedy scholar explaining why this outcome would be in keeping with his stated principles and previous jurisprudence. That’s also true of John Roberts. Will they follow through? We’ll find out.

 * DECIPHERING JOHN ROBERTS’ MOMENT IN COURT: John Roberts asked: If the government’s interpretation of the ACA’s subsidies as universal should be accorded Chevron deference, could a GOP president reinterpret the statute as restricting subsides to state exchanges? Robert Barnes explains what this really means:

The appeal of such a solution is easy to see from Roberts’s viewpoint, because it would push the decision-making back to the political branches. Regardless of ideology, no justice is probably keen on taking away subsidies from an estimated 7.5 million people in 34 states without state exchanges. A decision based on Chevron deference could say to Congress: Fix the law to make it unambiguous. It says to the executive branch: Implementation of the law is up to you.

Bottom line: Whether it’s federalism or Chevron, Roberts and/or Kennedy have several off-ramps to get to the right ruling. The question is whether they’ll instead decide the disputed snippet of text unambiguously says what the challengers claim it does.

* BENGHAZI COMMITTEE ROARS BACK TO LIFE: The Daily Beast has a good piece laying out how the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails has given a new boost to the House committee to investigate Benghazi, worrying Democrats:

Democrats are sounding the alarm: the committee formed to investigate the death of Americans in Benghazi is starting to look like the House Select Committee on Hillary Clinton…Ten months after its formation, the Benghazi investigation had seemed lifeless, at least to public eyes…But with the emergence of a brewing scandal surrounding Clinton’s private email communications, new life has been breathed into the investigation almost overnight…Within days the Select Committee on Benghazi had issued subpoenas for Clinton communications that were relevant to Libya.

Paul Waldman rightly argued here yesterday that there are many legitimate questions about the Clinton email scandal, and Dems on the Committee suggest releasing the emails publicly as quickly as possible is the best course of action. But will the Benghazi committee handle this in a balanced way?

* TEAM HILLARY’S DAMAGE CONTROL STRATEGY: Bloomberg reports on how the Clinton camp hopes to keep the email controversy contained:

Clinton won’t be presiding over a soul-searching press conference or sitting down for a come-clean interview about her use of a private email address any time soon — at least if everything goes according to her team’s plan. The former secretary of state and her advisers have decided to adopt a time-tested Clintonian approach: take a concrete step to ease the pressure, then wait out the storm, according to three sources with knowledge of her team’s approach.

The concrete step appears to be calling on the State Department to release 55,000 pages of emails she provided to the department. If it’s true that the Clinton camp thinks this is all it needs to do, that isn’t good enough.

* AND THE HEADLINE OF THE DAY, GOP-FANTASY-OBAMACARE-ALTERNATIVE EDITION: Looping back to our lead item, just as the Supreme Court Justices are preparing to make their decision, the New York Times goes big with this:

As Supreme Court Weighs Health Law, G.O.P. Plans to Replace It

One can imagine Republican lawmakers — who have worked overtime to create the impression that they have contingency plans in place for the millions who would lose subsidies, apparently to make it easier for the Court to gut them — breaking out in cheers at the sight of this headline. It’s all nonsense, though.