Mystery solved: Why the GOP isn’t trying to overturn Obamacare anymore

Susan Dench, a columnist for the Bangor Daily News, wonders why Republicans aren’t up in arms about the Affordable Care Act anymore. According to her analysis, people hate the ACA and would be happy to see it end, but somehow Republicans are too wimpy to go after the law now.

Dench suggests that part of the problem is that Democrats are meanies who have browbeat Republicans, who belong to what is evidently a rather timid political party.

She proclaims: “GOP leadership, here’s your golden opportunity, your time to stand up to the schoolyard bullies.”

Now, why isn’t Republican leadership following Dench’s advice?

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 9.57.41 PMPeople are gaining health insurance through the ACA and won’t want to give it up.

Yes, initially the website was a mess. But now it’s working pretty well and sign-ups are moving along.

In the last three days, 50,000 people signed up in California. And signups are increasing in all the other states.

While previously people couldn’t check how their options and weren’t able to find out how much financial aid they would receive to buy insurance, it’s much easier now — because is working.

Let’s say “just” two million more people have health insurance in January than had it before. How politically plausible would it be to kick them off their insurance? The backlash would be fierce.

Remember, even Ted Cruz said that after January 1, 2014, so many people will be getting insurance through the ACA that it would be impossible to end the program.

GOP leaders know how the U.S. constitutional system works.

Fact: The Affordable Care Act can’t be overturned until January 20, 2017. That’s the day a new president will be sworn in.

President Obama is not going to support a repeal and there is virtually no chance that the House and Senate would vote in veto-proof majorities for a repeal.

And by January 20, 2017, there will be far more folks with insurance than wouldn’t have had it before the ACA. It won’t be “just” two million or so.

GOP leaders are far more aware of public opinion on Obamacare than Dench.

And, as I’ve detailed repeatedly, the public is not interested in repealing the Affordable Care Act. (See here and here and here.) And that includes rather conservative states like Louisiana.

That’s not to say the law is beloved or even liked by most people. But if you do a careful, minimally sophisticated analysis, it’s clear that a) a segment of opponents dislike the law because it doesn’t go far enough, making a majority that supports the ACA or something more extensive and b) portions of the the law are quite popular (including Medicaid expansion.)

(By the way, did you see the new poll on how people in swing districts in Maine see Medicaid expansion? They like it, too.)

Much of the law is popular, well, everywhere. State polls even in Texas show considerable support for Medicaid expansion (yes, that again), as well as numerous other elements.

Dench’s proposed policy alternative wouldn’t help people who can’t afford insurance and wouldn’t work.

Romneycare works in Massachusetts and it’s the model for much of Obamacare. But if take out the individual responsibility provision (the mandate) and the subsidies, the system can’t work to cover all at a reasonable cost.

Now, you might think that the ACA is going to fall apart if too few young people sign up. But a recent study shows that even if 50% fewer than desired sign up, it would have a minimal impact on the cost structure. How minimal? Premiums would be just 2.4% higher.

Dropping the ACA would lead to a big hole in the federal budget. Already the CBO has lowered its predictions for future medical costs by a substantial amount. Dropping it would lead the deficit to rise.

The fight to defund Obamacare at all costs severely hurt Republicans. The shutdown was a disaster for the party and now Speaker of the House John Boehner is simply not inclined to listen to the far-right groups that pushed him to shut the government down to try to stop the ACA.

If you haven’t caught his reaction to those groups, which just came out to criticize the budget deal recently passed, it’s worth seeing Boehner’s frustration.

Speaker Boehner is not happy with the activists who “pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government.”

As he says, “Are you kidding me?”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.