Three powerful committee chairmen -- including Rep. Paul Ryan -- will lead a working group to develop an alternative to Obamacare, the House Republicans' most serious attempt thus far to develop their health care reform package, according to GOP sources. Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, will work with Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline of Minnesota to develop the health care plan. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will unveil the task force this afternoon, GOP sources said.
The House Rules Committee will meet later today to advance a leading Republican priority for the new Congress: repealing the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. There's something oddly beautiful about GOP lawmakers, after already having voted several dozen times to destroy the law, taking this up again ... on Groundhog Day.
But as this rather pathetic waste of time moves forward in the lower chamber, the question that continues to dog Republican officials hasn't changed: after they repeal the ACA, what exactly do they intend to replace it with? Politico reported late last week that a new initiative is underway.
It's certainly possible that this conservative trio will come up with something -- I wouldn't characterize it as likely, but it's possible -- though I don't think the political world fully appreciates just how overdue this GOP health care plan really is.
On June 17, 2009, 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." It wouldn't just be awesome; it'd be proof that far-right lawmakers could deliver real solutions better than those rascally Democrats.
That was nearly six years ago. Blunt was promoted to the Senate; Cantor lost in a primary; Republicans took over one chamber and then the other; and now we're supposed to believe GOP House members are prepared to work on a "serious attempt" at health care reform?
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) added on Fox News last week, "There will be an alternative, and you're going to get to see it." The second half of that sentence seemed especially amusing -- as if Republicans might create an ACA alternative that we weren't allowed to see.
Time will tell, of course, whether Republicans follow through on the same promises they've already failed to keep. But as the process unfolds, keep a few things in mind.
First, this new message from GOP leaders probably isn't intended for us, so much as it's directed to the Supreme Court. If Republican justices are concerned in the slightest about systemic chaos in the American health care market, GOP lawmakers are signaling to the court, "Don't worry, we're working on a new plan. It'll be awesome." The promise is probably a lie, but it's a lie that might make some justices feel better.
Second, the Republican alternative, if it exists, is going to be genuinely, cover-your-eyes horrible. How can I know that? Because in order to actually reform the pre-2010 health care system, policymakers have to commit to extensive public investments, expansive government regulation of the insurance industry, and a commitment to help struggling families receive guaranteed benefits. In other words, to do reform right, Republicans would have to do some of the things they refuse to even consider doing. Instead, they'll do reform wrong, and when the GOP alternative stands alongside "Obamacare" and consumers are allowed to compare, it won't be much of a contest.
And finally, though this point is routinely lost on much of the chattering class, Republicans don't actually like health care reform, which is why we've waited for nearly six years to see a plan that still doesn't exist. GOP lawmakers didn't see the old system -- the bankruptcies, the uninsured rates, the deaths, Americans paying more for less -- as a problem requiring a solution, which is precisely why they haven't invested energy in writing a detailed reform blueprint.
It's one of the reasons the party keeps passing the same repeal measures over and over again with no hope of success -- they see real value in simply turning back the clock and throwing all of the recent progress in the trash.