Is there anything you think Obamacare does well?
For the first time in a long conversation, the question leaves Chris Jacobs silent. A minute goes by before he speaks: “I think I want to pass.”
Jacobs is the new policy director of the Bobby Jindal-founded think tank America Next, and that’s not the conversation he’s interested in having.
Instead, Jacobs — who comes to his new role by way of the Heritage Foundation — repeatedly emphasized that his organization’s aim was to put forward “alternative, conservative solutions” in health care, energy, and education. But Jacobs wants America Next to go beyond putting solutions forward: He wants his organization to be generating the policies that conservatives endeavor to put into practice.
“The goal is not to create a bunch of papers that sit on shelves someplace,” he said. “This is designed to be a series of ideas that the conservative movement can really rally around.”
Such unifying proposals have been difficult to find for the conservative movement. “Repeal and Replace” Obamacare has been a consistent mantra among conservatives, but — in Congress, at least — it’s the “repeal” portion that is getting the lion’s share of attention.
The movement is still looking for a “replace” proposal, or set of proposals, to elevate into the public arena. Without that, Republicans will continually face criticism that their agenda is more anti-Obama than anything else.
Jacobs wouldn’t say what those new ideas are, in part because many are yet to be formulated, but he has an idea of where they’ll come from.
Jacobs sees the states as the primary incubators of conservative ideals. “Washington has been dysfunctional for years,” he said. “In many cases, the solutions will come from the statehouses and the good conservative ideas that are being put forward and enacted in states across the country.”
Some of the conservative thought leaders he looks to for health care solutions include Jindal, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.
As Jacobs puts it, he’s “spent the last four or five years articulating the case against Obamacare,” and now it’s time to highlight existing alternatives — in addition to formulating new ones — to push back against the president’s agenda.
Jacobs is a wonk in every sense of the term. He gets excited talking about Medicare Part D reform, and he spent free time as a 21-year-old on the budget committee at American University, his alma mater. He teaches health policy at American now, and remembers what life was like during the fall of 2009 when he juggled his colloquium with his work on the Hill.
“I was in meetings in the Capitol talking about the Republican alternative to Obamacare and sitting there with papers marking up grammar,” Jacobs said.
But what Jacobs wants most is to see policy solutions — developed at America Next — put into action.
“It’s something that we really haven’t been able to do for the past, well, five years now, being in the minority,” Jacobs said. “To put these policies into practice would be very gratifying.”
Jacobs will expand his portfolio at the organization to include energy and education, but he remains most passionate about health care.
“If you care about the future fiscal policy of the country, you have to care about health care,” Jacobs said. “Conservatives sometimes just want to talk about tax policy or budgets, but all of it comes back down to health care in some way, shape, or form.”
As one-sixth of the nation’s economy, health care is “the one policy area that affects everybody,” Jacobs says.
“Everybody has a health care story. Everybody has opinions on the health care system. It’s why [Obamacare] has been such a hot-button issue for the past four or five years,” he said.
There are four reasons why the Obamacare fight is far from over, according to Jacobs.
“First of all, this is a bad law,” he said. “And second of all, the administration isn’t even following the law.”
Jacobs cites the string of delays in portions of the Affordable Care Act among his reasons why he believes the administration only enforces the law “when it’s politically convenient for them to do so.”
His third concern is that the people who will be without health insurance will outnumber those who gain it come January, given the cancellation notices sent to millions of Americans who then struggled to navigate through HealthCare.gov until the majority of the site’s fixes were in place in December.
Jacobs hearkens back to fiscal policy — the cost of providing universal health insurance and premium tax assistance — for his final point.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the health insurance coverage portions of the law will cost the government $710 billion between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2019. CBO also says, however, that the law contains other provisions that will “reduce deficits over the next 10 years and in the subsequent decade.”
Jacobs isn’t buying it.
“There’s going to have to be a day of reckoning when it comes to this law, because our fiscal situation was already unsustainable. The idea that this law is inviolate and will never be repealed or changed is just not accurate. It’s going to have to be,” he said. “And, sooner or later, Democrats are going to figure that out.”