Opinion writer

It looks increasingly likely that some time in the next few days or weeks, the GOP Congress may realize a longtime dream of Republicans: Pass something that seriously guts Obamacare. The health law won’t actually be repealed, of course, since President Obama will veto such a measure. But that alone — forcing Obama to veto a repeal bill — is deemed a worthy goal in and of itself.

However, there’s a catch. Some Senate Republicans are apparently willing to vote for this measure precisely because Obama will veto it, sparing them the political fallout they might suffer if they actually did succeed in repealing the health law.

That, at least, is what Politico is now reporting. Politico says GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell would repeal the Medicaid expansion and the Obamacare subsidies that help make coverage available to lower-income Americans through a simple majority vote via the “reconciliation” process:

McConnell presented a plan to Senate Republicans on Monday evening that centered on winding down the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare for low-income Americans over two years, according to lawmakers. The proposal would gradually phase out Medicaid expansion in preparation for the next president to enact a new health care reform law. It would also scrap a medical device tax and so-called “Cadillac tax” for high-cost plans….the bill would eliminate the subsidies available to help consumers buy insurance.

But some Republican Senators are worried about the political implications of taking coverage away from their own constituents. Yet there’s a way around this niggling problem:

But a number of Republican senators from states that have expanded Medicaid voiced concerns about the message the party would be sending to the thousands of constituents that would lose their health care under the GOP’s bill.

On Monday, GOP leadership offered reassurances that there will be a two-year transition period that keeps federal subsidies flowing until the next president passes a plan, sources in the room said. And senators were reminded that the president would veto the repeal bill anyway, meaning Republicans could vote on the measure without having to deal with the political risks of actually making major changes to existing law.

In other words, Republicans need not worry about the politics of voting to take Obamacare from their own constituents, because their vote won’t actually end up taking Obamacare from their own constituents.

It is notable that a number of GOP Senators who are vulnerable in 2016 also come from states that expanded Medicaid, such as Illinois (Mark Kirk), New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte), Ohio (Rob Portman), and Pennsylania (Pat Toomey). Democrats are likely to attack them for voting to take insurance away from their own states’ residents, in the form of repealing the Medicaid expansion. However, these Republicans won’t have to deal with the political fallout of that actually happening.

There’s another dimension to this that’s worth appreciating. McConnell is reassuring nervous Senators about this vote not only by pointing out that Obama will veto the measure, but also by promising that the subsidies will continue temporarily, until the next Republican president passes an alternative for those who’d lose them. Thus, taking the subsidies away is also apparently deemed politically problematic, requiring a Republican alternative for those people. But the beauty of this is that, since the measure won’t actually become law due to Obama’s veto, Congressional Republicans won’t actually have to produce this alternative.

Of course, the GOP presidential nominee is very likely to campaign on a promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a concrete plan of his own. Yet the current machinations in Congress have hidden implications for the politics of Obamacare in the context of the 2016 presidential race. The health law has hit some problems (for a measured discussion of these problems, see Jonathan Cohn and Jeffrey Young) that has its foes (again) confidently predicting doom for the law and concomitant showers of political riches for Republicans.

But the GOP nominee’s repeal-and-replace plan is likely to offer a significantly less generous coverage expansion than Obamacare does, for the simple reason that Republicans don’t want to spend as much government money to cover as many people. A GOP president probably means fewer people covered. And the current repeal scheming by the Congressional GOP implicitly concedes that a basic dynamic still holds true: taking away Obamacare’s benefits from people is likely to prove politically problematic for Republicans. Thus, for all the outward bluster about the politics of Obamacare, it just isn’t clear that they will add up to a net win for the GOP, particularly in the swing states where the law’s expansion of coverage has been substantial, and where a presidential year electorate will vote next year.

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* REPUBLICANS BACKING DOWN ON PLANNED PARENTHOOD? The New York Times reports that Republicans appear disinclined to pursue a government funding fight to defund Planned Parenthood, in the wake of the Colorado shootings. But conservatives will be angry:

Some conservative critics of Planned Parenthood urged lawmakers not to be deterred in seeking to end financing for the organization. Those funds are mostly Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood for providing health services to low-income Americans; federal law prohibits funding of most abortions and nearly half of Planned Parenthood centers do not perform abortions.

Like those basic facts matter in the least. Conservatives are also likely to oppose any final budget deal because the spending levels will be too high, so GOP leaders will probably have to pass something with the help of a lot of Democrats. Again.

* GOP HATCHES STRATEGY TO AVOID SHUTDOWN: The Hill reports that House GOP leaders are determined to avoid a government shutdown, and they hope to keep House Republicans united by keeping in the budget at least some policy riders that conservatives want. Politico adds that those riders could include a defunding of the program to resettle Syrian refugees, which, among other things, Democrats say they cannot accept.

So some kind of confrontation is inevitable, and Democrats are vowing to hold firm against the refugee rider and others that are targeting environmental regulations. As Dems are quick to point out, House Speaker Paul Ryan may not be in the strongest position, since the last thing he wants at the outset of his Speakership is a messy shutdown fight.

* HILLARY TAKES LONG VIEW ON PRIMARY: Buzzfeed reports that Hillary Clinton is already going up with a radio ad in South Carolina, a spot that emphasizes her service in President Obama’s cabinet in an apparent effort to win over black voters.

The ad is a sign that the Clinton camp is preparing for the possibility that Bernie Sanders could win one (or even both) the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire (the more likely Sanders win). If so, Clinton will rely on the edge her broader coalition gives her in more diverse states that follow, such as South Carolina, where she holds an enormous lead.

* ELIZABETH WARREN HOLDING OUT ON HILLARY? The Post’s Anne Gearan notes that while most female Dem Senators have endorsed Clinton, Elizabeth Warren has held back on declaring her preference in the Dem primary:

Her absence….illustrates the leverage that Warren holds in an election that Democrats are calculating will be waged on issues of economic advancement and fairness….the fact that Warren has not yet endorsed a presidential candidate has been widely interpreted in Democratic circles as an effort to maintain her influence on the campaign agenda rather than as a snub of Clinton.

This is exactly what Warren should be doing: using her influence and leverage to prod Clinton into sharpening up her economic message and agenda, for purposes of the general election, not just the primaries.

 * TRUMP PREPARES FOR WAR WITH TED CRUZ: The billionaire said this at a rally last night:

“Even Cruz, I think he’s going to have to hit me. It’s going to be a sad day, but we will hit back — I promise.”

Cruz is widely seen to be positioning himself to capture Trump supporters, especially evangelicals, if and when (okay, only if) Trump eventually fades. One imagines Trump won’t let that happen without an epic brawl first.

* TED CRUZ ON ISLAM: Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur asks Ted Cruz whether Islam is an inherently violent or peaceful religion, and gets this answer:

“It is not my role to be rendering judgments on religious faith,” he said. “There are indisputably millions and millions of peaceful Muslims across the globe who are horrified at how terrorists are perverting their faith… But when President Obama stands up and says the Islamic State is not Islamic, that’s idiocy.”

That’s marginally better than Trump, who has ducked the question and suggested, with admirable precision, that there is “hatred” coming out of a “big part” of Islam.