How Not To Talk About Obamacare

Published May 4, 2014

The Spokesman-Review published a story the other day with a headline claiming that House Republican leader Cathy McMorris-Rodgers says Obamacare is likely to stay. Here’s an excerpt:

With the news this week that more than 600,000 Washington residents have acquired new health care plans through the state exchange, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said it’s unlikely the Affordable Care Act will be repealed.

“We need to look at reforming the exchanges,” the Eastern Washington Republican said Thursday…

McMorris Rodgers has been part of the Republican leadership in the House that has voted multiple times to repeal parts or all of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. GOP members have said the law is unworkable, will increase costs for some and force others into inadequate coverage or plans they don’t want. McMorris Rodgers continued those criticisms Thursday, but said the framework established by the law likely will persist and reforms should take place within its structure.

You’ll note that the only actual quote in that comment is “we need to look at reforming the exchanges”, which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing to say, but doesn’t justify the headline. For their part, McMorris-Rodgers’ office claims that the headline of the piece is inaccurate. But it also provides us with a handy object lesson about how not to talk about Obamacare.

What McMorris-Rodgers, or any Republican, is really saying when she says that Obamacare is unlikely to be repealed: she’s saying Republicans are unlikely to beat Hillary Clinton. Every single Republican presidential candidate in 2016 will be in favor of repealing Obamacare. Every single one will have a proposal, from the bullet point to the massive white paper, for replacing Obamacare. Every single one will be insistent in response to the skepticism of their debate questioners that the law will be rolled back under their watch by any means necessary. And should one of them win, Obamacare’s rollback will be the first legislative item on the agenda. Even if Democrats retain control of the Senate, Republicans will attempt to dismantle the law.

The only realistic way this is not the case, of course, is if 1) Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the United States. (That’s it – that’s the list.) Now, it may be that it is also McMorris-Rodgers’ opinion that this is likely to come to pass – she’s certainly not alone in that opinion! – in which case she might as well say that, too.

Of course repeal of Obamacare will be challenging. There are a host of things in the Democratic and Republican agendas which are unlikely to come to pass. For McMorris-Rodgers’ party, it is also unlikely that Roe v. Wade will ever be undone; that the tax code will ever be dramatically reformed; that Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform will ever pass; that Social Security will be privatized; that the Balanced Budget, Human Life, or any other amendment to the Constitution will ever pass. Yet all these things are in the Republican Platform. Should they be removed because making them happen is difficult, politically? A good thing this type of sentiment didn’t carry the day on, say, getting rid of the Soviet Union.

Politicians who run on repealing Obamacare who say they don’t anticipate being able to repeal Obamacare are essentially saying “we expect to lose”, which seems a pretty silly thing for an elected politician to be saying. You don’t get a lot of “we expect to lose” from underdog sports teams headed into a big game, even if they do. If you expect to lose, then you might as well throw in the towel and skip the game – or, in this case, stop working on public policy or electoral politics. You should particularly stop working on Republican alternatives to Obamacare, as it is a waste of time given the inevitable future election of Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Senate.

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[First published at The Federalist.]