Repeal, replace and retreat.

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Catch of the Day: GOP Retreat on Obamacare

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

A Catch to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who figured out what some Republicans are really saying: that popular provisions of  Obamacare “don’t really count as Obamacare!” 

He was analyzing the Facebook fiasco suffered by Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, who asked her constituents for horror stories about the Affordable Care Act on its fifth anniversary.

Instead, she heard from people who got coverage, rather than lost it, and who said the law made their lives easier. McMorris Rodgers's explanation, according to the Spokesman-Review, was that most of the praise was for provisions with “broad, bipartisan support” such as coverage for those with “pre-existing conditions and those that are getting health insurance up to age 26.” 

In other words: We're going to vote to repeal every single word of Obamacare. Except for the stuff people like.

The problem for Republicans is that all the benefits of Obamacare are popular. It’s the costs that people don't like -- the taxes and Medicare cuts to pay for those benefits, and the individual mandate to make the system work. The more the Republicans reinforce the idea that the goals of the health-care law are worthwhile, the more they are trapped into supporting it no matter how many times they vote to repeal it or promise a replacement.

By supporting the law's benefits, Republicans are on a path, if they get a chance, to pass a “replace” bill keeping the popular parts -- that is, the basic structure of Obamacare -- while putting a new façade on the whole thing. They could, for example, rename the health-care exchanges the Ronald Reagan Liberty Free Enterprise Insurance Zones or something like that. 

Sure, conservative wonks will realize it’s a sham and bash President Walker or Rubio for allowing Obamacare to continue, but Republican politicians will be happy to put the whole thing behind them without breaking the system while they’re in charge of it. And Republican voters won’t notice. After all, they aren't objecting to McMorris Rodgers's effort to claim some credit for those popular Obamacare provisions, are they?

At any rate: Nice Catch!

  1. Including transition costs, which have already mostly been tallied -- such as the botched website rollout and those canceled policies. Unfortunately for Republicans, a real replacement would have its own transition costs. 

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:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at