Republicans are slowly assembling their own Obamacare death panel. The patient: Obamacare itself.
The GOP is confronting the very real possibility that its health care bill won't pass. And from there, the question is do they try again or simply accept the status quo. Which is Obamacare. Which they believe is dying.
President Trump has said himself on numerous occasions that Republicans could simply let Obamacare die on its own, allowing Democrats to continue to pay the political price for it. But then he always clarifies that the GOP won't do that.
"I actually talked with [House Speaker] Paul [Ryan] and the group about just doing nothing for two years, and the Dems would come begging to do something because ’17 is going to be catastrophic price increases ... and they will come to us,” Trump said in January at a Republican retreat, adding: "If we waited two years, it will explode like you’ve never seen an explosion."
That idea was also pushed Wednesday by a sometime Trump foe, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). On Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Graham suggested letting Obamacare "collapse" on its own. "Here’s what I would prefer he do," Graham said of Trump. "If he can’t get us in a good spot where we all feel comfortable, we’ve improved Obamacare dramatically, which we told people we would: Let it collapse."
When Hewitt pushed back on the idea, Graham added: "Democrats are not going to lift a finger to help President Trump. I would do collapse-and-replace if you can't get a good, solid fix to Obamacare using reconciliation."
Hewitt's reaction to Graham's comments was telling, and it's perhaps the most natural one: You can't just let people suffer. "I think you’re misjudging the political consequences of that strategy dramatically," Hewitt said.
It's a fair point. The political downside to letting Obamacare die is that you're letting the nation's health care system deteriorate. And there are huge real-world consequences for Americans' health and pocketbooks. That seems crass, at best. And that's to say nothing of the other big political hurdle: The fact that Republicans will be failing to live up to their promise to repeal Obamacare.
"I think it is hard to go that route; how does Jeff Flake explain that in a GOP primary?" one GOP strategist said of the Arizona senator, who is up for reelection next year and has a conservative primary challenger. "That said, if they don’t get this right, the political fallout is epic."
Former Ted Cruz aide Amanda Carpenter summarized the beliefs of plenty on Wednesday.
But some actually think collapse-and-replace is the best of the many bad options for the GOP. Another GOP strategist who was also granted anonymity to speak candidly said the GOP has backed itself into a corner and may have to embrace the idea.
"It’s not crazy," the second strategist said. "It’s a desperate strategy, but they're in a desperate situation."
And there's an argument to be made that it's not really letting Obamacare die, per se, but rather allowing people time to realize just how unworkable it is -- because right now there doesn't appear to be the urgency the GOP needs to actually pass their alternative.
Support for Obamacare is actually on the upswing, but perhaps skyrocketing premiums and more insurers pulling out of the exchanges would reverse that trend. And maybe Democrats, as Graham argues, would come begging to help the GOP pass a replacement if their constituents start demanding Congress do something. (Democrats, of course, would argue that Obamacare isn't dying and will never actually collapse, but plenty of them have acknowledged it needs to be reformed in certain ways.)
Republicans could also simply argue that they tried and failed to pass their own bill, so their hands were tied. If the public support isn't there, after all, they had no choice but to leave things as they were until the public truly demanded action.
Speaking about it in terms of letting Obamacare "die" or "collapse," though, makes it sound more like Republicans are seeking political benefit here -- like they would be playing games with something that impact real people's lives. for their own purpose. It does sound crass. And they probably want to rethink their rhetoric.
Especially since it's looking like this might be the only real strategy they have.