Will Republicans Make the Fatal Mistake of ‘Fixing’ Obamacare?

Obamacare by from The Weekly Standard, February 10, 2015

In today’s Wall Street Journal, my friend Tevi Troy and Scott Gottlieb unwittingly demonstrate why Kingv. Burwell has always been a dangerous case for advocates of repeal.  As they highlight, a favorable ruling at the Supreme Court may give Republicans just enough rope to hang themselves.

President Obama’s biggest political mistake of his entire administration was his refusal to accept the outstretched hands of many Republican senators who were more than willing to compromise with him on Obamacare.  Obama instead spurned them and arrogantly insisted on ramming Obamacare through both houses of Congress purely on the strength of Democratic votes.  If he had compromised just enough to make Obamacare, say, 80 percent as bad as it actually is, his centerpiece legislation would now have a bipartisan gloss, would never have been so unpopular, and would not be so vulnerable to full repeal.  Advocates of limited government and liberty should be extremely grateful that Obama so foolishly overreached.

But as Troy and Gottlieb demonstrate, Republicans are now flirting with negotiating bipartisan “fixes” that would make Obamacare about 80 percent as bad as it actually is — thereby effectively undoing Obama’s biggest political mistake.

Troy and Gottlieb write that, if the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration in King, Republicans should “advance reforms that provide some immediate relief, start to turn ObamaCare in a market-based direction, and leave Mr. Obama in a political bind” by forcing him to sign these “market-based” reforms into law.  They add, “One of the most meaningful reforms would be to lift the heavy federal regulation of which insurance products can be sold in the exchanges,” thereby “reintroducing competition” to Obamacare.

In other words, after Republicans were unanimously opposed to Obamacare in December 2009 (in the Senate) and March 2010 (in the House), rode their unified opposition to control of both the House and Senate, and (with a few unfortunate exceptions like voting to change Obamacare’s workweek definition from 30 to 40 hours) have long been united in the notion that it must be repealed rather than “fixed,” they should respond to a victory at the Court by negotiating “free-market fixes” to Obamacare with the Obama White House.  Even just extending the Obamacare subsidies (through January 20, 2017) in exchange for nothing would be far better than letting Obama have the twofer of reinstated subsidiesand bipartisan “fixes” to his highly unpopular namesake.

But if Republicans really want to win a standoff with Obama in the wake of a favorable Court ruling, they need to go big and go bold.  They need to advance a circumscribed alternative that would effectively repeal Obamacare in the 36 states that would be affected by the Court’s ruling.  That GOP alternative should end the unfairness in the tax code for every American who buys insurance in the individual market, thereby finally fixing what the government broke long before the Democrats passed Obamacare and made everything worse.  Republican should fix that unfairness not just for those who get Obamacare subsidies but for everyone who buys insurance in the individual market.  They can do so by offering a non-income-tested tax credit that offers a tax cut to millions of Americans who get nothing from Obamacare but the tab.

That is how you put Obama in a “political bind,” not by “fixing” his signature legislation.

Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda to re-limit government, secure liberty, and promote prosperity, including “A Winning Alternative to Obamacare.

© 2015 Weekly Standard LLC. Reprinted with permission.