Will Republicans Repeal Obamacare if They Win Next Year?


Sarah Kliff argues that if Obamacare survives King v. Burwell, then it’s here to stay. There are no further legal challenges that could kill it. Political momentum to repeal it is waning. And most important, the number of enrollees is growing:

Obamacare now has a large and growing constituency: an estimated 10.2 million Americans get coverage through the health law’s marketplace (and millions more through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion).

….As more and more people sign up for Obamacare — the Congressional Budget Office expects 24 million people to sign up by 2024 — the politics of repealing Obamacare become worse and worse. The constituency that the law has already developed just keeps growing.

This helps explain why Republicans are tripping over themselves to come up with plans to replace Obamacare’s insurance subsidies should the Supreme Court rule against them. Those proposals implicitly acknowledge that it would be bad for Republicans to allow millions of Americans’ tax subsidies to dry up, even though legislators still staunchly oppose the law.

I’ve made exactly this argument myself, so you’d think I’d be in total agreement. But if anything, I think I’m more nervous than I was a year or two ago. I keep expecting Republican fury over Obamacare to wane, but it never seems to. It seems to be every bit the white whale it was six years ago, and it promises to be a big applause line in the 2016 presidential campaign yet again.

So how could repeal happen? Easy. Republicans will control the House in 2017, so that’s no problem. Maintaining control of the Senate (narrowly) is a distinct possibility. There’s also a perfectly reasonable chance of having President Walker in the Oval Office, and we all know he’d be perfectly happy to sign a repeal bill.

But even in a minority, Democrats would filibuster a repeal, wouldn’t they? Sure. But so what? Republicans would simply make it part of a budget bill and pass it by reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. Any Senate parliamentarian who isn’t a hack would determine that this is a violation of the rules, but all that means is that Republicans need to install a hack as parliamentarian who will do what they want. They’ve done it before, after all. Problem solved. Obamacare repealed.

Now, granted, Republicans have to win both the Senate and the White House for this to happen. The odds are probably against that, but not by a lot. It’s well within the realm of possibility. And that would leave only a very thin reed to stand on: the fact that repealing Obamacare would immiserate millions of people and once again turn health care into a living hell for the poor.

Would that be enough to give Republicans pause? I wish I still believed it would be. But I don’t. A harsh streak of just plain meanness has taken over the GOP in recent years, and I haven’t seen any sign that it’s fading away. Maybe this is merely partisan bitterness on my part. I sure hope so. But as near as I can tell, they’d actively enjoy making the lives of the poor ever more harsh in order to save the rich from paying a few taxes. I sure hope we don’t get to find out.