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The GOP's love/hate relationship with 'Obamacare'

If you peruse today's news, you'll run across stories that may seem contradictory. On the one hand, you'll find plenty of coverage of congressional Republicans
The GOP's love/hate relationship with 'Obamacare'
The GOP's love/hate relationship with 'Obamacare'

If you peruse today's news, you'll run across stories that may seem contradictory. On the one hand, you'll find plenty of coverage of congressional Republicans saying they remain committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). On the other, you'll also see pieces noting that congressional Republicans intend to use the savings from the health care law to balance the budget.

Which is it? Actually, it's both.

It remains true that GOP lawmakers are committed to Obamacare repeal as if the 2012 election never happened.

Republicans in Congress are renewing their political assault on the nation's new healthcare law, trying to repeal President Obama's signature domestic achievement as part of the next battle over the federal budget.Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, last year's Republican vice presidential nominee, said Sunday his forthcoming budget proposal will include repeal of "Obamacare," as his party calls it.

Byron York reported over the weekend that "some conservatives" are upset that House Republican leaders haven't done even more to defund the Affordable Care Act, regardless of the consequences, even if it shuts down the government.

Of course, since Obamacare shrinks the deficit, wouldn't a repeal effort make it harder for the GOP to balance the budget? Yes, and that's why there's a catch: Repblicans only really want to repeal the parts of the reform law that provide health care benefits to people who need them. The rest of the law, as Ezra explained, can stay.

Every Ryan budget since the passage of Obamacare has assumed the repeal of Obamacare. Kinda. Ryan's version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.

It's a nice trick, isn't it? Repeal the parts of the ACA that help people, keep the parts of the ACA that reduce the deficit. Scrap the half that advances the goals Republicans don't like, keep the half that advances the goals Republicans do like.

As a practical matter, GOP leaders thumping their chests and posturing for the cameras is ultimately meaningless -- they're not going to repeal the law. This is about the making the right feel better about itself and ignoring national elections results that conservatives found unsatisfying.

But there are a couple of noteworthy takeaways from the story. First, it's worth noting that as recently as January, Republican leaders didn't see much of a point in pursuing "Obamacare repeal" as a serious goal. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for example, continued to say how much he hates the law, but publicly acknowledged that he intended to invest his energies elsewhere.

In the seven weeks since, in other words, congressional Republicans have become even more eager to pander to right-wing activists than they were before.

Second, the parts of the ACA congressional Republicans are inclined to keep are troublesome for a guy like Paul Ryan. Sahil Kapur had a good piece on this, noting that the congressman is poised to "complete a 720-degree flip."

Ryan ran for vice president last year against Obama's cuts to Medicare, which don't target beneficiaries but instead lower reimbursements for hospitals and private insurance companies under Medicare Advantage.... And yet GOP budget chief's new position is a return to an earlier stance. His House-passed blueprints in 2011 and 2012 also assumed the same level of Medicare savings as the Affordable Care Act, while repealing the rest of the law.But even that was a reversal after Ryan and his GOP colleagues strenuously objected to the Medicare cuts before Obamacare passed, warning as he did during the 2012 campaign that the lower provider payments would harm services for current seniors.In other words, Ryan and Republican leaders started off opposing the ACA's Medicare cuts, then turned around and twice passed budgets that kept them, then campaigned against those cuts in the 2012 election, and are now embracing them again.

Is this the point at which the Beltway press tells me again how "serious" Ryan is?