The number of uninsured Americans has dropped by three to four million since Obamacare coverage took effect Jan. 1, according to a new Gallup survey. How much of the drop can be precisely attributed to the health care law is a matter of debate, though there are signs that enrollment among the uninsured is picking up.
What isn’t up for debate: Republicans are now confronted with a fork in the road in how they approach Obamacare. Repeal or relent.
Every newly insured American undermines the “repeal” stance that has been the party’s status quo over the last four years. But relenting, acknowledging the law won’t be undone and pivoting to more of a “fix” mentality isn’t going to be easy either, given the demands of the far-right.
You can’t have both.
With the midterm campaigns kicking into high gear, incongruent messaging will be highlighted by the press and pounded home by Democratic candidates. The GOP has to make a choice, the same choice the party has been making over and over again during the Obama administration: Remain ideologically pure — or recognize reality and assume more pragmatic positions.
It appears they aren’t quite ready to pick their path yet, and the messages are still conflicting for now. Just last week at an event commemorating the five-year anniversary of the tea party movement, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) maintained the old party line: Obamacare can and will be repealed.
“I am absolutely convinced we are going to repeal every single word of Obamacare,” he said. He repeated the line Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” arguing that Obamacare repeal could be an electoral winner for Republicans, despite all the polling evidence to the contrary.
“Washington isn’t listening to those people,” Cruz said. “That’s how we win elections and that’s also how we repeal ObamaCare.”
Now Cruz has never been afraid of bucking the GOP leadership, and he’s been doing so since last fall’s government shutdown over Obamacare. But he speaks for a significant cohort of the conservative base. There is plenty of evidence that full repeal is still a litmus test for Republican candidates. When a Georgia GOPer running for the Senate nomination had the audacity to suggest that working to fix the law might be preferable, he was quickly attacked by other contenders.
But the governing element of the party — House Republicans — isn’t standing with Cruz. Yes, they voted last week to repeal the individual mandate again, but they have to give something to the base. What’s more revealing is a new plan, as reported by Politico, by House leadership to bring forward a series of piecemeal minor fixes to the law that Republicans and Democrats agree on and should pass with bipartisan support.
There’s a conscious political element here — they want to take away the Democratic talking point that Republicans aren’t doing anything but obstructing the law — but it’s still a sharp contrast to the “full repeal” caucus, the numerous past House votes for repeal and even its own vote last week to nix the individual mandate, a pure show vote. Implicit in this legitimate legislating is a recognition that, when four million people have become insured thanks to the law, taking the position that their coverage should be stripped away is no longer politically palatable. GOP congressional candidates have also waffled in their Obamacare stances as Democrats are preparing to attack them for their intransigence over the law.
If you want a one-man litmus test for which path the GOP will ultimately take, look to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He faces a tough road to re-election, considering his senior status, and he’s running in a state that has been one of Obamacare’s biggest successes. He’s also fending off a primary challenge from a candidate constantly dinging him for not fighting against the law enough.
In his own rhetoric, McConnell has largely stuck to the repeal message. But some of his allies, including the ever-influential Chamber of Commerce, have retreated from that stance on his behalf. A recent Chamber ad excludes the words “repeal” or “stop” — instead touting McConnell as the man who has been “leading the fight to fix this Obamacare mess.”
So which is it? Fix or repeal? That’s the decision that McConnell — and all Republicans — are going to have to make.