Republicans can repeal and replace Obamacare as soon as January now that they have the House, the Senate and the White House at their fingertips, but Senate Democrats aren’t so sure they can actually follow through.
After years of Republican campaign ads railing against Obama’s signature health care law, rumors of death panels and fear mongering over government-controlled health care, Democrats are waiting for Republicans to unveil their big repeal and replace plan.
“They know it’s something they need to deliver on and Trump’s already backing off,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH-D). “I don’t think they’ve ever considered that they might actually have to make decisions.”
Already, Republicans have tried to manage expectations. The chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), warned last week it could take years before a full repeal and replace plan is implemented. And Republicans aren’t eager to talk about the specifics of how they actually plan to overhaul a health care law and not leave millions in the lurch.
President-elect Donald Trump has tried to assuage concerns that he’d yank protections for people with pre-existing conditions by saying they’ll remain. But even that is a heavy lift for Hill Republicans. The solution for keeping premiums from skyrocketing while protecting people with pre-existing conditions was the individual mandate and Republicans won’t be keeping that.
Democrats believe Republicans don’t have an alternative because they too know there are political and policy risks associated with committing to an actual plan.
“I got to see replace,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). “I’ve threatened to bring bloodhounds to the Capitol to find replace. For years, I’ve been looking for replace. I’ve looked in committee rooms, I’ve looked in hearing rooms, I’ve looked under desks, I’ve looked in closets. There has never been a replace.”
McCaskill challenged Trump and Republicans “to be honest” and actually come up with a plan rather than just ragging on Obamacare.
“Let’s see how that would work for the millions of people who have certainty and security right now,” she said.
Democrats admit that Obamacare needs some fixing, but they are dubious Republicans can just do it themselves.
“I think they should fix Obamacare and call it a repeal and replace,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “That is both the best public policy and the best politics for them. If they actually repeal the thing, people are going to suffer and they will suffer electorally.”
Republicans are balancing conflicting pressures. On the one hand, they have promised their constituents for nearly seven years that they would repeal and replace this law. They have little wiggle room to escape that now. They’ve gone through the motions to pass legislation repealing it dozens of times, but the president’s veto was a stop gap.
“I think what you have to look at is the individual market. That’s where the premiums skyrocket,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “If you repeal it, it would be very hard to get something back in and I think you are going to have chaos on your hands. You are going to have people lose coverage. You are going to have sickness and concern. We’ve got 20 million people covered who weren’t covered before. What do they do?
Democrats also recognize that if Republicans mess with Obamacare, it will be theirs to own.
“This is one of those situations where the last person to touch it, owns it,” Schatz said. “And so now they have a responsibility to fix it. I think they are in no position to leave it alone. They just promised for so long that they were going to do it.”