A Republican Senate majority wouldn’t be able to fully repeal Obamacare, but it could force some pretty significant changes to the health care law.
For now, the GOP isn’t talking much about what would come after Election Day. Its candidates are falling over themselves to pledge their support for full repeal — which may well be a winning message in a campaign but will be politically impossible even with the Senate majority. After all, President Obama will still be in the White House.
But as the odds of a GOP takeover increase, a rough outline is starting to emerge of how Republicans would handle Obamacare. Full repeal might be a fantasy, but with total control of Congress the GOP might be able to chalk up some real policy wins against the Affordable Care Act, and the first targets are already coming into view.
“The ultimate goal is to fully repeal Obamacare and replace it with commonsense proposals that solve the cost problem. But recognizing that Obama will be president for the next three years, we will use every lever we can in the meantime to lay the groundwork for its repeal,” a senior GOP aide said.
Winning the Senate and keeping the House would also have some risks for the GOP. It would step up the pressure to prioritize bills that Obama might sign, without disappointing conservatives who don’t want to see the party accept Obamacare as the status quo. And it would bring into sharper relief the constant question of whether Republicans should advance their own health care plans.
Here’s how a Republican-controlled Senate’s Obamacare strategy would likely play out:
First, expect a vote on full repeal. Republicans will use any procedural opening they can to get a full-repeal bill to Obama’s desk, a Republican health care staffer said. Yes, Obama will veto it, and there will be plenty of eye rolling about how many futile repeal votes congressional Republicans have held. But the Senate has never held one, and any Republican who doesn’t want to get primaried will want a chance to vote for repeal before moving on to anything that might look like “fixing” Obamacare.
After that, Republicans have two anti-Obamacare tracks — bills that might pass, and bills they could force Obama to veto.
There’s some low-hanging fruit that could gain bipartisan support. If Republicans win the Senate, for example, Obama will almost surely be presented with a bill to repeal the health care law’s tax on medical devices. That proposal has passed the House and could easily pass the Senate today, with strong bipartisan support — if it ever came up for a binding vote.
The GOP aide laid out a few more items that might win Democratic support, such as repealing the health insurance tax and stepping up the procedures for recapturing improper subsidies. Even a big-ticket item like repealing the employer mandate could attract red-state Democrats, allowing Republicans to argue that they’re pursuing bipartisan reforms, even if most or all of their efforts are ultimately vetoed.
Aides also said Republicans will likely force Obama to veto a bill repealing the individual mandate. There’s no way he’d ever sign such a bill, but the GOP sees political value in forcing the issue all the way to his desk.
“It’s always better to change the law than to force a veto, but on fundamental differences, vetoes can be useful too,” said Dean Clancy, a tea-party-aligned policy analyst.
“Recognizing that Obama will be president for the next three years, we will use every lever we can in the meantime to lay the groundwork for its repeal.”
(Ironically, it’s vulnerable Democrats who are probably most eager to vote for some of these bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t call a vote on a device-tax repeal; a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell probably would. And no one would be happier about that vote than Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana — a red state with a big device-industry presence.)
But eventually, the decisions for GOP leaders get harder: Do they want to fixate on unpopular parts of Obamacare, essentially using the Senate majority to amplify the message the House has been sending for the past four years? Or would they be better off advancing their own ideas, sending Obama bills that lay out a conservative vision of health care policy, rather than simply chipping away at his vision?
“If Republicans think they’re going to win big majorities simply by saying the word ‘Obamacare’ over and over, I think they’re kidding themselves,” Clancy said. “To be a governing majority, you have to act like a governing majority.”
But taking on a sweeping project to overhaul the whole health care system has its own risks.
Everything in health care policy comes at a cost — lower premiums mean higher deductibles, more doctors mean higher premiums, cost control means Medicare cuts. Any plan is open to attack.
And Clancy, like other conservative activists, would have the GOP take on some of the sacred cows of health care policy — such as the law requiring emergency rooms to treat the uninsured and patient-privacy laws.
That’s certainly an affirmative vision, but it’s one that would take the party a long way away from the relative safety of simply attacking Obamacare, and Obamacare is what’s unpopular. People like the U.S. health care system overall, and as Obamacare has shown, trying to change that system is an extremely hard sell.
“There is something to” that concern, Clancy said.”It’s a fight against government-run health care and mandates, and not just about Obamacare, but right now they’re stymied in fighting Obamacare.”
What We're Following See More »
Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."