In this Nov. 10, 2016, photo, President-elect Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., pose for photographers after a meeting in the Speaker's office on Capitol Hill in Washington. Washington’s new power trio consists of a bombastic billionaire, a telegenic policy wonk, and a taciturn political tactician. How well they can get along will help determine what gets done over the next four years, and whether the new president’s agenda founders or succeeds. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

There are going to be so many tax cuts for the rich, you're going to get tired of tax cuts for the rich. You're going to say, “Mr. President, please don't cut taxes for the rich so much, this is getting terrible.”

And it will start when Republicans repeal Obamacare.

This is the Rosetta Stone for understanding why conservatives have acted like subsidized health care was the end of the republic itself. It wasn't just that it had the word “Obama” in its name, which, in our polarized age, was enough to ensure that 45 percent of the country would despise it. No, it was that Obamacare was one of the biggest redistributive policies of the last 50 years. The Republican Party, after all, exists for what seems like the sole purpose of reversing redistribution.

A quick recap: Obamacare is a kind of three-legged stool. First, it tells insurance companies that they can't discriminate against sick people anymore; second, it tells people that they have to buy insurance or pay a penalty, so that everyone doesn't just wait until they're sick to get covered; and third, it helps people who can't afford the plans they have to buy be able to. Which is to say that you need to come up with a whole lot of money to make this work — money that Obamacare gets by taxing the rich. Indeed, at its most basic level, it raises taxes on the top 1 percent to pay for health insurance for the bottom 40 percent.

So undoing Obamacare would undo a lot of taxes at the top, and a lot of subsidies at the bottom. You can see that in the chart below from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. They crunched the numbers to figure out how much getting rid of Obamacare's taxes and tax credits would help or hurt people at different rungs of the income ladder, and the results were about what you'd expect. The bottom 40 percent are a good deal worse off, the middle 55 percent are mostly unaffected, and the top 1 percent would do pretty, pretty well. In fact, they'd get an average tax cut of around $32,820.

Source: Tax Policy Center
Source: Tax Policy Center

It's a reverse Robin Hood. It's taking tax subsidies from the poor to give as tax cuts to the rich. The starkest way to think about that is that the bottom 60 percent would get negative 61.1 percent of the total benefits of getting rid of Obamacare, while the top 1 percent would get 117.5 percent. That's right: the wealthiest would gain more than the country as a whole would, because the working class wouldn't be gaining anything at all. They'd be losing tax credits, and the health insurance those bought them.

Although, as you can see below, it's even more lopsided than it sounds. The 44.8 percent of the total benefits that the 99 to 99.9 percent would get makes them seem like plebes compared to the 72.7 percent that the top 0.1 percent would.


Source: Tax Policy Center

What we can't say, though, is how much the “repeal” part of “repeal and replace” would make up for the “repeal” part. That's because Republicans still haven't figured that out almost seven years later. The problem is that it's hard to come up with a conservative alternative to Obamacare when Obamacare is the conservative alternative. It's the market-based way to try to insure the uninsured. Think about it like this: if you want to make insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions, then you need a mandate, and if you have a mandate, then you need subsidies to make it affordable. Obamacare, in other words, is the If-You-Give-A-Mouse-With-Preexisting-Conditions-An-Insurance-Plan system of health care reform.

Now, maybe Republicans really will put together their own plan . . . but maybe they won't. It's hard to see where they'd get the money for one when they're so committed to getting rid of all the taxes that pay for Obamacare now.

Getting tired of tax cuts for the rich yet?

Donald Trump has campaigned to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, once he gets into office. Now that he's won the presidency with a majority Republican House and Senate, that feat might not prove to be too easy. Wonkblog's Max Ehrenfreund explains. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)