One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they're going to have a plan that rivals "Obamacare," and it's going to be awesome.
Yesterday, The Hill reported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.
A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare."Give us a little time, another month or so," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. "I think we'll be pretty close to a Republican alternative."
Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan's "task force," responsible for coming up with the GOP's reform alternative.
Upton said the Republican group is currently in "listening mode" -- which it's apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.
And yet, we're apparently supposed to believe that in "another month or so," House Republican lawmakers will be "pretty close" to having their own reform plan.
Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe "listening mode" is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with "a little time," they're ready to deliver.
It's certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.
As we discussed when the Republican "task force" was created early last year, the political world may not fully appreciate just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is. It was on June 17, 2009 that then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made a bold promise. The Missouri Republican, a member of the House Republican leadership at the time, had taken the lead in crafting a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and he was proud to publicly declare, "I guarantee you we will provide you with a bill."
The same week, then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the official Republican version of "Obamacare" was just “weeks away.” We'd all see the striking proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.
This was nearly seven years ago. The Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young has gotten quite a bit of mileage out of a joke, documenting all of the many, many times in recent years GOP officials have said they're finally ready to unveil their big health care solution, only to quietly fail every time.
In early April 2014, then-House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party's health plan was nearly done, but it was being delayed "at least a month." That was 24 months ago. In 2015, assurances that the Republican plan was on the way were also wrong.
In 2016, however, a GOP leader has been reduced to arguing, "Give us a little time," seemingly unaware of how hilarious this is.
As we talked about last week, the problem probably isn't dishonesty. In all likelihood, Republicans would love to have a health care plan of their own -- no one likes to appear ridiculous while breaking promises -- but haven't because they don't know how to craft one.
As New York's Jon Chait explained, "The reason the dog keeps eating the Republicans' health-care homework is very simple: It is impossible to design a health-care plan that is both consistent with conservative ideology and acceptable to the broader public. People who can't afford health insurance are either unusually sick (meaning their health-care costs are high), unusually poor (their incomes are low), or both. Covering them means finding the money to pay for the cost of their medical treatment. You can cover poor people by giving them money. And you can cover sick people by requiring insurers to sell plans to people regardless of age or preexisting conditions. Obamacare uses both of these methods. But Republicans oppose spending more money on the poor, and they oppose regulation, which means they don't want to do either of them."
Or as a Republican Hill staffer famously put it in 2014, "As far as repeal and replace goes, the problem with replace is that if you really want people to have these new benefits, it looks a hell of a lot like the Affordable Care Act.... To make something like that work, you have to move in the direction of the ACA."
Which, of course, Republicans can't bring themselves to do.
But hope springs eternal, and I can't wait to hear more about the GOP's progress in "another month or so."