Why Nothing Will Happen on Obamacare Until 2017 and That’s Probably for the Best

Republicans and Independents want to repeal Obamacare, but that’s never going to happen. Here’s what might.

Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced today that the House of Representatives will vote this year on a bill to replace Obamacare.

The “2010 health care law,” as Pew describes Obamacare, is deeply unpopular among non-Democrats, with 89% of Republicans and 61% of Independents disapproving of the law. What Pew doesn’t tell us, however, is what percentage of respondents want to repeal the law vs. attempt a fix.

Fortunately, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll asked just this question. Here are the relevant breakdowns.

All respondents:



And Conservative Republicans (aka primary voters):

Repeal, at least among those who oppose the law, is incredibly popular.

But not all Americans oppose the law, and not all of those who oppose the law want it repealed, even after a disastrous rollout featuring incredibly bad press and a surprisingly effective Republican response.

Also keep in mind that this polling can’t tell us everything about political support for an immensely complicated law. Medicaid expansion will poll quite differently than the individual mandate, just as the complex but divisive risk corridors (deemed an Obamacare “bailout” by Republicans like Marco Rubio) will poll differently than the subsidies offered to help lower income Americans purchase coverage on the Obamacare exchanges.

Thus we should expect an eventual plan to look something like the plan Republican Senators Burr, Coburn and Hatch introduced last week. (My colleague Philip Klein has a nice explainer here.)

The Burr-Hatch-Coburn proposal is, to put it gently, a recognition of reality. The American health care system was broken before Obamacare, and simply repealing the law isn’t going to be an option without a compelling alternative.

While far from perfect, the Republican proposal notes the existence of issues like pre-existing conditions, attempts to begin unwinding the tax bias in favor of employer subsidized health insurance, and provides an alternative to the Medicaid expansion. So, all in all, a sort of Obamacare-lite.

Just one issue: it’s premised upon repealing Obamacare.

(Austin Frakt has interesting thoughts on that point over at The Incidental Economist. The TL;DR of his point is Republicans shouldn’t expect a single Democratic vote on a bill that opens with repealing the primary Democratic policy triumph of the 21st century.)

Thus the new status quo is here to stay — for now.

Republicans won’t offer a bill that doesn’t being with repeal of Obamacare, and Democrats won’t vote for a bill that repeals Obamacare.

But that’s ok.

Republicans have no intention of actually trying to pass a health care alternative while Obama is in office. The carve-outs and caveats required to override his vetoes (and the politically painful votes this process would require) would be monstrously unpopular — and result in a lot of Tea Party Republicans getting sent home by their constituents.

Speaker Boehner, let’s not forget, has had trouble getting Republican votes on legislation like the Farm Bill, with Tea Partiers revolting due to the bill not cutting enough.

Why, in such an environment, would leadership risk a right-wing civil war for legislation that would never actually happen?

They won’t, because the goal isn’t to repeal and replace Obamacare. The goal is to retake the Senate in 2014, get a Republican in the White House in 2016, and to offer up a reform to Obamacare — one built on conservative premises — to try to begin fixing our health care system.

Obamacare changed the status quo for good (and absorbed much of the political flak in the process), and if Republicans are smart, they’ll take full advantage.

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