Republicans Drop Talk Of Health Care ‘Replace’ — For Now

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On the verge of an expected Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare, Republicans have removed “replace” from their mantra of “repeal and replace,” signaling that they may do nothing this year if some or all of the law is declared unconstitutional.

Congressional Republicans had vowed not to return to the pre-Affordable Care Act status quo, which was widely seen as broken. They’ve since voted unanimously to roll back the law. And while they’ve flirted recently with reinstating some of the more popular benefits of ‘Obamacare’ in a replacement plan, they still haven’t coalesced around a proposal.“Now we all know the Supreme Court is likely to make some announcement about Obamacare tomorrow,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Wednesday. “We made it pretty clear, and I’ll make it clear one more time: if the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what’s left of it.”

No mention of replacing the law.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a physician and member of the Republican leadership responsible for policy and strategy, sang the same tune Wednesday.

“If only part of the law is struck down, the plan would be to repeal the rest of the law,” he said on MSNBC. “I say the health care system wasn’t working before and it’s not working now and it’s worse under the president’s health care law.”

Again, no mention of replace.

So, what happened? Short answer: The right wing of the Republican Party bit back.

Faced with the potential blame for snatching away popular benefits in ‘Obamacare,’ some Republican elected officials had been publicly mulling a replacement plan to reinstate pieces of the law, such as those letting Americans remain on a parent’s insurance policy until 26, closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap, and addressing pre-existing conditions. Those officials have, in recent weeks, signaled a shift in that direction, if largely to save face with independent voters ahead of the election who support those provisions.

In response, prominent conservatives gave elected Republicans hell for considering preserving even the popular elements of Obamacare.

The latest shift from GOP leaders suggests they’ve decided, for the time being, that appealing to the broad middle by promising to retain the parts of Obamacare that remain popular is too risky because it would anger their base.

“I got a call from Speaker Boehner last Friday,” said Rush Limbaugh on his radio show Wednesday. “He called a lot of people and he was telling us what the Republican plan is. And it was repeal, repeal, repeal. Regardless of what happens. … He made it clear that repeal — and not repeal and replace, but repeal — was going to be the focal point for the House Republicans.”

The specifics of — and fallout from — the ruling could still compel them to change course. But in a way, the politics would be far easier for the GOP if ‘Obamacare’ is validated by the court.

“Anything other than complete uphold will create chaos,” said a GOP health aide. “Buckle up.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.
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