When President Obama took a brief victory lap on the South Lawn yesterday afternoon, he included a specific taunt that, by my ear, seemed ad-libbed.
“[T]his law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast, all of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law, or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand. I’ve got to admit, I don’t get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance?”
Note how this turns the Republican line against them. Indeed, Obama’s questions need not be rhetorical – why are so many on the right working so hard to deny Americans access to affordable medical care? Why haven’t the ACA’s critics bothered to present a plausible alternative?
After months on the offensive, Republican opponents of health care reform suddenly find themselves in an awkward position. Not only have all of their predictions turned out to be wrong – more on that later today – but GOP officials are also confronted with polling data that shows repealing “Obamacare” far less popular than the law itself.
And so Republicans are stuck (a) explaining why they were wrong; (b) coming up with delusional conspiracy theories while rooting against U.S. success; and (c) shifting their posture away from a wildly unpopular repeal crusade.
Yesterday, for example, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) office, struggling to complain about good news on the health care front, said policymakers “must replace” the law. The word “repeal” wasn’t included in the statement. Also yesterday, as Greg Sargent noticed, Karl Rove’s Crossroads operation launched a new ad in North Carolina, touting a Republican Senate candidate’s willingness to “replace Obamacare.” The word “repeal” didn’t make the cut here, either.
In other words, Republicans, most of whom assumed hysterical opposition to the ACA was the answer to every question, have found themselves in a box: they can’t endorse the increasingly successful system, and they can no longer push for repealing the law in its entirety, so they’re left with talking up “replacing Obamacare,” even as the law brings health care security to millions.
All of which leads to a question the GOP still can’t answer: replace it with what?
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appeared on Fox News this week, and after endorsing the notion that the Obama administration is manipulating enrollment data as part of an elaborate fraud, he was asked where his party’s alternative solution is. Graham sheepishly mentioned a couple of ideas he liked – which already exist in the Affordable Care Act.
Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is reportedly ready to unveil a plan of his own: Medicaid block grants, HSAs, and buying across state lines. In other words, it’s eye-rolling conservative boilerplate, circa 2005.
Republican leaders have been meeting in secret for nearly five years, trying to come up with some kind of reform plan, and as of two weeks ago, they hadn’t quite completed work on a vague outline of ideas we already know they support.
As the election season intensifies, and the ACA’s successes become more obvious and better known, there’s no reason Republicans should be let off the hook. They want to replace the system that’s working? Fine. But they should tell Americans, in detail, what the ACA would be replaced with, who’ll benefit, and how much it’ll cost.
This is a challenge the GOP will almost certainly fail. In fact, the right has become wholly invested of late in the notion that federal policymakers must never, ever consider measures that would take away someone’s coverage. Or cost consumers more. Or force them to change doctors. Or raise the deficit. Or raise taxes.
I can’t wait to see what they come up with.