At least on the surface, congressional Republicans were optimistic of a Supreme Court victory in King v. Burwell. For months, GOP lawmakers talked openly and repeatedly about the prospect of taking a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act, stripping millions of families of their health care benefits. It was only a matter of time before conservative justices delivered.
What's more, Republican leaders tried to be reassuring, insisting there was no reason for the public to panic -- the GOP's alternative to "Obamacare" would be even better than the effective reform law. Once the Supreme Court gutted the U.S. system, Republicans would, they claimed, rush in with their superior solution. Indeed, some prominent, far-right lawmakers urged governors to ignore obvious fixes and instead wait for the GOP's remedy to be available.
Last week, of course, the high court disappointed Republicans and rejected the ridiculous lawsuit. But I'm still curious about that GOP alternative that was waiting in the wings. Wasn't it all set to go? Where is it? Can we see it?
National Journal reported the other day:
For months, Republicans have been crafting a post-King v. Burwell strategy, confident the Court would rule in their favor and strike down the law's insurance subsidies in 34 states using the federal insurance marketplace.
Of course, we've been hearing talk about Republicans "crafting" their own health-care package for many years now, meeting behind closed doors for a half-decade, trying to find an ideologically satisfying proposal to rival President Obama's signature domestic achievement. At least so far, they've come up with exactly nothing.
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 fail quietly every time.
But this year was supposed to different. This year, Republicans assumed the Supreme Court would function as an extension of the congressional GOP and help take benefits from more than 6 million American consumers. This year, Republicans simply wouldn't have a choice -- they'd have to step up with a policy of their own, because the court would force their hands.
In the wake of last week's ruling, GOP officials have done largely what we might expect them to do: they've complained about the justices; they've explored legislative repeal options, and they've promised to make the Affordable Care Act a key issue in the 2016 elections, echoing the identical rhetoric the same Republicans used in 2012.
To this extent, the decision in King was a return to normalcy: GOP leaders could go back to whining incessantly about Obamacare, without having to do any actual, substantive work.
But there's no reason to let them off the hook too easily. Republicans promised us a health care plan, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to see what they've come up with. In April 2014, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his party's plan would be delayed “at least a month.” That was 15 months ago.
In March of this year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told governors they shouldn't even think about creating a state-based exchange marketplace. "If people blink and if people say, 'This political pressure is too great, I'm just going to sign up for a state-based exchange and put my constituents in Obamacare,' then this opportunity will slip through your fingers," Ryan said.
OK, but what opportunity? A chance to take advantage of the Republican alternative? Which is what, exactly?
The legal fight over the ACA is largely over; anti-healthcare forces have no more cards to play. But with another round of national elections coming up, and Republicans still vowing to repeal the current U.S. system, GOP leaders should come up with an answer to an easy question: where's your alternative?