Would any Republicans with a replacement for Obamacare please raise their hands?

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republicans Are Making Obamacare Harder to Repeal

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make significant changes to the employer mandate provision in President Barack Obama's 2010 health-care law, changing the definition of a "full-time employee" from one who works 30 hours a week, to one who works 40 hours. The effect of this bill is going to be negligible, because Republicans won't have enough votes to override a presidential veto. Even as a bit of political theater, it was puzzling.

The employer mandate is more popular than other elements, like the individual mandate, that Republicans might have attacked. So it's not clear what Republicans gain from going on the record in favor of quasi-repealing it. 

Of course, Republicans might rejoin that they had an obligation to pass a good bill, even knowing that it would be unpopular and that President Obama would never let it take effect. That brings us to the next question: Why did they think this was a good bill?

I'm not arguing that Republicans now have an obligation to fix the bloated mess they've inherited from the Democrats; if they think that they can fatally damage a bad program, they have every right to do just that.  What I am arguing is that weakening the employer mandate is not going to get them any closer to repealing Obamacare. Indeed, the reverse is true. If they actually succeeded in getting this bill passed into law, all they would do is further entrench the 2010 health-care bill.

After all, a weaker employer mandate will push more people onto the exchanges. Many of those people would be receiving subsidies. The more people who receive subsidies, the harder repeal of the whole law will be. And since the exchanges, and the associated regulations, are the law's most problematic part, it's hard to see why Republicans want to push more people into that part of the system, and hasten the sclerosis that makes programs so hard to kill or change once they have accumulated a lot of users. We haven't even discussed the extra cost of providing subsidies to millions more people.

Republicans seem to like taking votes against Obamacare so much that they'll vote for anything that undoes what Democrats put in place--even if that thing costs a bunch of money, and takes them further from their stated goal of repealing the whole bill. They need a better hobby. Might I suggest they take up finding a viable replacement instead?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net