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Conservative Wonks Warn GOP: Obamacare Repeal Is Dangerous

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AP Photo / KEVIN LAMARQUE

As insurance sign-ups on the Obamacare exchanges surged past 6 million and neared 7 million at the closing of its first open enrollment period Monday night, some conservative policy wonks called on GOP lawmakers to accept that the dream of fully repealing the law had faded.

"[W]e do know that there won’t be an immediate political unraveling," wrote Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times. "And knowing that much has significant implications for our politics. It means that the kind of welfare-state embedding ... is taking place on a significant scale, that a large constituency will be served by Obamacare (through Medicaid as well as the exchanges) in 2016 and beyond, and that any kind of conservative alternative will have to confront the reality that the kind of tinkering-around-the-edges alternatives to Obamacare that many Republicans have supported to date would end up stripping coverage from millions of newly-insured Americans."

Conservative health care consultant Avik Roy argued in a blog post Saturday that the new enrollment statistics, limited as they are, suggest that there won't be a "death spiral" of rising costs and fewer insured, and that "there are enough healthy people who benefit from Obamacare's subsidy scheme that it won’t be a complete disaster on this front."

Roy, who has long been warning that repeal without an alternative is untenable, again cautioned of political and substantive problems with the Republican party's headlong pursuit of eliminating the health care law without coalescing around solutions of their own.

"Thus far, we've seen precious little from the GOP on this front," Roy wrote. "And that's why, for all of Obamacare's problems, polls routinely show that Americans still trust Democrats more than they trust Republicans on health care policy. Whatever happens in 2014, that should be a red flag for conservative triumphalists."

Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, voiced concern that a GOP message of "repeal" and a Democratic message of "keep and fix" could "neutralize the issue" in the 2014 mid-term elections. He also said the benefits can't simply be taken away.

"If Republicans run on repeal and replace or really let's say replace and repeal, it has to be done at once. You can't just throw people out," he said on Fox News Sunday. "But we are going to give you tax credits, we're going to take care of preexisting conditions as part of the repeal, then the polling shows that becomes very, very popular."

There's also concern about an party-wide overemphasis on Obamacare.

The Republican party's lack of an alternative was highlighted Monday on Fox News, when host Jenna Lee grilled Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about why his party still hasn't settled on a plan. He dodged, and she pressed.

For now, though, Republican leaders are staying the course. They remain dedicated to wiping Obamacare off the books, although they still can't decide what they'd put in its place.

"The president's health care law continues to wreak havoc on American families, small businesses and our economy," Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a statement Monday. "House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences."

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.