With the Supreme Court scheduled to hear the Obamacare challenge King vs. Burwell next week, Democrats and Republicans are both trying to influence the Court’s decision. For the left, that means focusing on the millions of people who could lose health insurance if the Court rules that the Affordable Care Act doesn't provide subsidies in the 36 states on the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov. Just this week, Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell informed Congress that there was no administrative fix if the plaintiffs succeed. Liberal groups are equally reticent to discuss their strategy.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are determined to show that a ruling for King wouldn’t throw the U.S. health care system into disarray. Above all, that means proving that Republicans can finally agree on a replacement plan. Not coincidentally, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, included a panel Thursday titled, “The Conservative Replacement to Obamacare.” If anything, though, the panel showed that Republicans have made no progress on coalescing around an Obamacare replacement.
Moderated by Amy Frederick of the 60 Plus Association, a seniors advocacy organization, the event featured Senator John Barrasso, Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Capretta, a health policy writer from the Ethics and Public Policy Institute. “We continue to hear another lie, that conservatives have no solution to Obamacare,” Frederick said in her opening. “We’re going to put the lies to bed for good.”
While the participants were supposed to talk about a replacement conservative health plan—at least based on the panel’s title—they spent the majority of the 36-minute event attacking Obamacare. For instance, after Barrasso, Blackburn, and Capretta each gave their opening statements, Frederick began the question round by saying, “Let’s start with a political question for the panel.”
Wait, wasn't this supposed to be a policy panel?
Of the five questions Frederick asked, only one was about policy solutions. The rest were about politics.
The lone wonk of the group, Capretta handled that lone policy question, noting that conservative health reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Regardless of the merits of those bills, though, the challenge for Republicans isn’t simply introducing legislation. It’s actually passing it. The House can take up an Obamacare replacement plan at any time. In fact, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised to do just that in 2014. “This year, we will rally around an alternative to Obamacare and pass it on the floor of the House,” Cantor said 13 months ago.
Liberals rolled their eyes at that promise, and they're doing it again as Republicans offer platitudes about their ability to agree on a solution. And rightly so. Just look at the “Points to Remember” that the 60 Plus Association posted on their website about the panel. None of the points has anything to do with a replacement plan. Instead, they only explain the faults of Obamacare. What happened to all of those conservative solutions?
In the past, Democrats mocked the GOP’s inability to coalesce around a replacement plan. But the King case now makes their position far more meaningful. If the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs, it will make health insurance unaffordable for millions of Americans and potentially cripple health insurance systems in states using the federal exchange. No one knows how Congress and the states would respond to such an outcome. But they will have to respond. Republicans understand this. “The most important opportunity we’re going to have soon is the King decision,” Barrasso said, “because that can start us on the path of actually transferring he power out of Washington and to the states.”
Blackburn agreed, although it’s not clear she actually understands the case (or health care in general). “Obamacare is an enormous redistribution of wealth,” she said. “And taking the federal government, inserting itself into the health insurance and health care delivery marketplaces simultaneously and then wrapping up that money and then that access—that’s why we have to keep our focus on King vs. Burwell and the appropriate response.”
If you know what the latter part of that quote means, please let me know.
Ultimately, Barrasso and Blackburn are right. The King case is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party to come together around a conservative health care proposal. Capretta all but pleaded with congressional Republicans to do just that. “We need to come and rally around a basic single vision for where we need to go,” he said. “It’s really important for everybody to set aside their small differences so that they can rally around the big issue.”
But as CPAC showed, there’s no chance they will actually do that.