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Opinion Republicans cut and pasted their ‘new’ Obamacare alternative

Side-by-side composite of press releases announcing the 2014 (L) and 2015 (R) Patient CARE Acts. Click to enlarge. (Screenshot)

Congressional Republicans took a novel approach to announcing their Obamacare alternative this week: Out with the old and . . . well, back in with the old.

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee put out a news release announcing "Burr, Hatch, Upton Unveil Obamacare Replacement Plan." The three men, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (Utah), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), are well-regarded legislators, and the press went along with this "news."

"GOP unveils new Obamacare alternative," proclaimed The Hill newspaper.

Forbes cheered "The Impressive New Obamacare Replace Plan from Republicans."

"Take a look at the first real Republican 'Obamacare' alternative," suggested The Examiner.

Robert Pear of the New York Times reported that the plan was "drafted with encouragement from Republican leaders," "devised" by Hatch, Burr and Upton, and included a "potentially explosive proposal." Pear reported that "Republicans said the need for such an alternative had become more urgent."

But Caroline Behringer, the eagle-eyed press secretary for Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, was suspicious that this "urgent" and "explosive" new proposal had just been "devised." So she did some sleuthing and discovered that the Republicans had lifted the thing — right down to quotes in the news release — from the rollout of the same proposal a year earlier.

This "new" plan in fact had something old, something borrowed and something blue: a two-page explainer borrowing virtually the same 700 words from the 2014 version and set in the same robin's-egg blue font. The only thing that appeared to be new was the name of Upton, substituted for that of Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), who "unveiled" the plan with Hatch and Burr in 2014 but has since retired.

The nine bullet points were identical, as was the description of the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment (CARE) Act as "a legislative plan that repeals Obamacare and replaces it with common-sense, patient-focused reforms that reduce health care costs and increase access to affordable, high-quality care." The first 359 words of the news release were the same as those in the previous year's model, with the exception of Upton's quote. Burr's quote ("The American people have found out what is in Obamacare — broken promises. . . .") remained the same.

This exercise in cut-and-paste legislation would seem to suggest that Republicans are not serious about their “new” proposal. Like last time, the plan hasn’t been drafted in legislative language, so it can’t be reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office to see how much it would cost and how many would lose insurance.

And there’s good reason for that: Opposing the Affordable Care Act in the abstract is easy enough, but it becomes more challenging when you present a specific alternative, because such cheaper alternatives inevitably cover fewer people and make consumers pay more for benefits. This explains why the House, in passing its 56th attempt at some form of Obamacare repeal this week, included no specific alternative but rather a suggestion that committees get together and come up with some ideas.

There is one notable difference in the 2015 version of the news release compared with 2014. It omits a quote from Hatch that said “Obamacare is a disaster.”

This is why opposing the health-care law is becoming a less appealing proposition, with or without an alternative plan. Millions have received health-care coverage, but the federal deficit and health-care inflation are down and payrolls are booming. Sky-is-falling claims sound more and more like old news.

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Read more:

Eugene Robinson: A juvenile GOP

Paul Waldman: What Republicans’ Obamacare alternative really tells us

George Will: Defining economic failure down

Dana Milbank: With another Obamacare repeal vote, GOP sets ‘record’ for futility