How Republicans Could End Up Saddled With Obamacare's Mess

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Let there be no mistake: The Obamacare rollout has been a disaster for Democrats and particularly for President Obama. But gleeful Republicans currently benefiting from these woes face some real risks of their own.

Right now a narrow majority of Americans trust Republicans more than Obama to handle health care. But the two plans gaining momentum in Congress to address the raft of insurance-policy cancellations caused by Obamacare could both end up harming Republicans and letting Obama off the hook.

The first plan, from House Energy and Commerce Chairman Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would allow insurance companies the option of offering the old plans that are being cancelled because they don’t meet the stricter rules and more comprehensive coverage required by Obamacare. Politically, this is a great “messaging” bill for Republicans and nervous Democrats because it promises to restore the canceled policies that have caused such an uproar. It has well more than a 150 co-sponsors—including some Democrats—and is likely to be voted on later this week.

But embedded in the Upton bill is a potential land mine for Republicans. Let’s say it passes and becomes law—and the insurance companies decided not to renew those canceled plans. According to Politico, that is exactly what would probably happen: “Insurance industry sources say that it’s likely too late to undo the cancellation notices that already have gone out, meaning the Upton bill is unlikely to actually restore coverage.”

At that point, Obama could shift responsibility to the insurers. In fact, that’s exactly what some conservatives I spoke with on Wednesday are worried about. If Obama signs a “fix” that Congress has imposed on him under duress, and insurers are the ones that balk—well, judicious-minded people could hardly blame Obama.

The second plan comes from Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who’s facing dicey reelection prospects next year. Landreiu’s plan goes further than Upton’s: It would force insurers to keep offering those canceled plans. On the plus side for Republicans, this would undermine Obamacare and avoid letting the president shift the blame to insurance companies, as the Upton bill would. But as Red State’s Erick Erickson noted, the GOP has spent years loudly denouncing the idea of government mandates that force private businesses and individuals to do things they don’t want. He goes on:

“Here’s what is going to happen.

“The House, with the help of a good number of Democrats, will pass the Upton plan and send it to the Senate. Harry Reid will substitute the Landrieu plan and send it back to the House. The House will be forced to either vote for the Landrieu plan or be characterized as siding with insurance companies against people.

“In one fell swoop, the Democrats will have the GOP on record saving Mary Landrieu’s re-election in Louisiana by casting her as the one who saved Americans’ health care plans, and also getting on record as really being in favor of fixing Obamacare with the use of mandates.”

Erickson advocates a third option that is far more popular with Republicans: “repeal and replace.” But Republicans don’t agree on what, if anything, to replace Obamacare with. And repeal would put Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion, since polls have consistently shown that the public wants to give the law a chance to work.

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