Are Republicans Abandoning Opposition to Obamacare?


Gage Skidmore Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Are Republicans backing off their staunch opposition to Obamacare? That's the question raised by a Washington Post report today on the evolving way that GOP politicians and candidates are talking about the health law now that its coverage expansion has gone into effect. 

The Post's report follows a string of stories from GOP-watchers like the Post's Greg Sargent, who, for the last few weeks, have been suggesting that the Republican party is beginning to bend, at least a little, when it comes to the health law. This suggestion rests heavily, though not exclusively, on statements from Scott Brown, the former GOP Senator from Massachusetts who is running for Senate in New Hampshire, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who just won a GOP primary and is now set to face off against Democratic candidate Alison Grimes in November.

As Sargent has noted, Scott Brown's statements on the health law have not exactly been crystal clear. At times, they are almost completely indecipherable. For example, here's what Brown said on radio station WMUR last month when asked about how he would approach health policy, since he thinks Obamacare is a disaster:

"I've always felt that people should either get some type of health care options, or pay for it with a nice competitive fee. That's all great.  I believe it in my heart. In terms of preexisting conditions, catastrophic coverage, covering kids — whatever we want to do, we can do it. As a matter of fact, in New Hampshire, I would encourage everybody to do a New Hampshire plan that works for New Hamphsire, that deals with individual freedoms, and doesn't have mandates put on by bureaucrats in Washington….a plan that is good for New Hampshire…can include the Medicaid expansion folks who need that care and coverage."

I don't know what that means. I doubt Scott Brown knows what it means. That's because it probably doesn't really mean anything, except that Scott Brown would like to be the Republican Senator from New Hampshire, and he will say various things about health care if that turns out to be part of the job.

Brown added to the incoherence of his non-position position by stating, during the same interview, that he thought that Obamacare was a "disaster" but also that he agreed with the philosophy behind the law.

This tells us plenty about Scott Brown, but I am not sure how revealing it is about the Republican party. Brown has always been a policy lightweight with little interest in the minutae of government. The most generous way to put it is that he has always claimed to stand for the interests of his constituents more than for any policy agenda. A less generous way to put it is that he has never seemed very interested in policy details, and never been very good at describing his own policy positions when pressed.

At his first news conference after winning the Massachusetts Senate seat in 2010, for example, he dodged virtually every policy question by claiming a lack of sleep. I'm sure he really was tired, but somehow he'd managed to run for Senate and win without developing any particularly detailed positions on most major policy issues. Win or lose, I suspect he will complete his current Senate campaign with a similar level of effort.

A somewhat more interesting case of potential Republican moderation on Obamacare comes from Kentucky, where Sen. Mitch McConnell, arguably the country's most powerful Republican has argued that Obamacare was a "big mistake" that needs to be pulled out "root and branch"—and also suggested that the state's Obamacare health exchange could perhaps be left in place. Questioned this week about whether his desire to completely undo Obamacare would also mean dismantling the state exchange, he said, "I think that's unconnected to my comments about the overall question here."

This is at least half a load of nonsense: The state's health insurance exchange, dubbed Kynect, was created explicitly in response to Obamacare, and was funded with about $250 million in federal grants made possible by the law. To the extent that Obamacare's individual insurance market reforms and private coverage expansion exists in Kentucky, it exists through Kynect.

Still, it's at least possible to imagine a future in which Obamacare is repealed and Kentucky maintains and runs its own health insurance exchange. That's what Massachusetts did, with the help of a deal to secure federal funding, and in the absence of Obamacare, it's conceivable that other states could negotiate federal funding deals for their own exchanges. Yet even this scenario suggests potential GOP support for state-run programs that very much resemble Obamacare. (Which is maybe not that surprising given that the Massachusetts system was, after all, passed under a Republican governor who eventually became the GOP's presidential nominee.)

Do these and other episodes of GOP confusion about the law represent a turning point in the party's opposition to the law? I'm not so sure. What McConnell's awkward statements suggest is that the Republican party has not solved its old problem when it comes to health policy: The GOP knows clearly what it is against, but not what it is for.

Yes, there are a handful of GOP-crafted alternative health policy proposals in the waiting, but there's little effort to promote these plans or unite around them. When Republicans are asked what they would do about health policy, they typically point to Obamacare and say, "not that!" The law's coverage expansion has simply added to this problem, because Republicans, not really knowing what they favor in health policy, have no clear idea what to do about the people who are now receive coverage through the law's various provisions. 

That means the GOP is an awkward spot, but it doesn't mean they will or should reverse course. If you look at the polls, the GOP is on the right track. The health law is not popular, never has been, and there's little indication that it is gaining in popularity now that its coverage expansion—its biggest, most widely felt benefit—has kicked in. Even the low-income cohort who ought to benefit most from the law believe that their insurance options have not improved this year. Just 14 percent of the public thinks they've been helped by Obamacare. And in perhaps the most telling sign that there's no big turning point in sight, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says that Democrats won't run on the health law this year. Republicans may not know quite how to talk about health policy, but Democrats aren't exactly sounding confident about their work on it either. 

The public is clearly with Republicans in opposing the law in its current form, and that's why the GOP's broad opposition is likely to continue. Republicans don't need to weaken their opposition to Obamacare—they need to find something they would like to do instead. 

NEXT: Obama's College Scorecard is a Giant Student Welfare Scheme

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  1. I don't know what that means. I doubt Scott Brown knows what it means.

    This tells us plenty about Scott Brown

    Uh, Peter...that second statement would seem to be rather untrue, given the first statement.

    /jes' sayin'

    1. The master asks the monk "What does this tell us about what Scott Brown thinks?"
      The monk replies "It tells us nothing."
      The master says "It tells us everything."
      The monk replies "I see I was wrong."
      The master replies "Your are wrong twice."

  2. I believe it in my heart.

    When a politician says this, run far, far away, as fast as you can.

  3. Can I make a suggestion to the GOP for health policy?

    Free markets, leave people the fuck alone, repeat for every other policy.

    1. Hell, you don't even get that from the folks at the Cato Institute; don't expect it from the GOP or general American public anytime soon.

    2. "Leave people alone?!? My God, it's as if you don't CARE!!!"

      /Feelers, not Thinkers

      1. So when did you start hating brown people?

        1. When they started wanting to be my US senator. Browns claim to fame is being able to "reach across the isle". Apparently he enjoys making gubment larger for both parties. He is currently viewed as the front runner for the GOP.NH has become a progressive nightmare over the last 25 years. Lucky us looks like it will be same as it ever was.

  4. Beware of liberals in Republican clothing.

  5. Republicans don't need to weaken their opposition to Obamacare?they need to find something they would like to do instead.

    Damn that do-nothing GOP.

    Ultimately, GOP incoherence reflects the incoherence of the American public on the topic. For the most part, right-wing reform branches into two paths: wonky attempts to move away from employer-based plans towards individual plans (usually catastrophic instead of comprehensive), or marginal changes to the current situation (eliminating state barriers to interstate insurance pools, for example). The former is not going to happen in the current circumstance, and there isn't enough meat on the latter approach to justify running the gauntlet on such a high-profile issue.

    On the plus side, there has been some interesting and encouraging experimentation on the state level from certain state GOPs.

  6. Hey, elections don't lose themselves. It's time for the Stupid Party to act!

    1. Jesus, all they have to say is "I told ya so!" as costs continue to rise and people get kicked off their insurance.

      They'll somehow manage to screw that up by talking about rape and dirty homosex.

      1. You're expecting an awful lot from a party led by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell if you think they'd figure that out.

        Until the GOP purges the remaining Bushies from leadership positions, expect them to continue to find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

        1. Looks like defeat it is, in last weeks primaries:

          Incumbents 100%
          Challengers 0

          Old team red is still alive and well........unfortunately .

  7. "Mend it, don't end it."

    I've known since Day One that this would be the GOP response. "Free Shit" is too strong an argument to defeat so the best you can hope for is "New And Improved! Free Shit - Now With 30% More Corn!".

    1. There was a pretty loud outcry last summer (remember the government shutdown) that stated if it wasn't stopped before it was implemented, it would be impossible to stop later. I think this is correct.

      It's wishful thinking that will have a full repeal at this point. Millions of people have had their policies cancelled and been forced to buy policies on the exchanges. Millions of newly insured are obtaining generous Federal subsidies. None of those people are going to be sanguine about getting dumped off the existing exchanges.

      A better approach would be to champion catastrophic family insurance plans combined with Healthcare Savings accounts. Dump the subsidies into the HSA's and require matching contributions for those above the poverty line.

      But that's probably too much to hope for at this point.

  8. What do you expect from a party that nominated Romney to oppose the 'Obama' in 'ObamaCare' last time around? They're the Washington GOPenerals.

    And, before he gets here, hey Weigel.

  9. Duh?

    Once it passed it was used as a weapon to win the House. That was all the GOP establishment cared about.

    Have they ever got rid of a major program?

    1. And some of you fuckers supported that strategy. You know who you are.

    2. Well, I guess if you count the World Wars as 2 programs, yeah.

      I think the syn-fuels program was killed.

      TVA's dead, isn't it? Rural electrif'n too.

      The Manhattan Project too. Philadelphia-Montauk, if you don't limit it to real programs. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, subsequent manned space programs.

      TARP isn't buying any new paper, is it?

      I think they stopped displacing Indians, which was a pretty big program.

      1. Prohibition!

  10. Republicans are spineless when it comes to walking the walk. They talk, and oppose things, but really - not-so-deep down - they are only opposing it since it's politically convenient. They don't care, hell, they like having power as much as the next Democrat.

    The GOP is filled with people who THINK they are very different from Democrats, and THINK they are all about "free markets" (a term they keep hearing on Fox ) - but when it comes time for action, like here with Obamacare, they have nothing different. They refuse to espouse the "free market" option because its scary, and honestly they have so little philosophy that they can't really imagine how it work work.

    The GOP was destined to dovetail behind Obamacare because when the microphone gets to them on it, they have no answers.

    1. Shorter DC_36, when the mid-70s republican "insulted" the LP by calling it "The Party of Principle".

      That is all that needs to said about that.

  11. Yes, the best free market plan is that people without health care insurance should just have the good manners to die. I love it when a conservative feels like they are making a compelling argument when they say that all people get health care treatment in the ER. Wanna bet? Come down to SF General one saturday night and watch them literally die in the aisles. 11,000 die annually due to under insurance in this country and Obamacare or Mitch Mcconnell care is the answer?

    I'd get rid of insurance companies and sentence their overpaid executive to five years of hard labor inside Mike Rowe 's blue collar reeducation camps . Those guys are in need of a useful skill.

    1. What exactly does it mean to die from under insurance?

    2. Be sure not to say that the poor need help getting medical care, though. They tend to regard it as condescension, and feel offended.

      Probably we should just set up a fake contest and pretend that they "won" free healthcare for life. That way, it doesn't hurt their feelings.

      Or, perhaps fake jobs, where we pretend they "earn" healthcare by going to a greenhouse and converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, so that the plants can breathe.

      1. Is that what I said? I'm for getting rid of insurance companies and sentencing their executives to hard labor. That's condencension to the poor? I think you are being too sensitive.

        1. But, earlier you said:

          Yes, the best free market plan is that people without health care insurance should just have the good manners to die.

          I assume, then, you advocate for more than just arresting insurance company executives. That doesn't really accomplish anything that actually helps people, does it? How are all the people who die at SF General going to get healthcare that way?

          If throwing insurance executives in jail is your idea of socialism, then I'm not sure why people should care, and I'm not sure that's socialism.

          Perhaps you should create a new name: "American Throw the Bastards in Jail! Pitchforks!" or something. Because for all your whining against straw man versions of markets and libertarianism, whatever coherent worldview you ascribe to is lost on me, that's for sure.

          1. If throwing insurance executives in jail is your idea of socialism, then I'm not sure why people should care, and I'm not sure that's socialism.

            It seems to happen quite often in socialist countries, so I'm comfortable saying that its how socialism works in practice.

          2. I'm for universal health care-- preferably funded by a "condescending asshole" tax on people who have lots of money in the bank, but think people who have less than 100k in assets are pitiable fat slobs. Surely, I've made my position clear... If not, my bad.

            1. I told you I get it, socialist: we need to take care of poor people, but don't say we need to take care of poor people, because that's condescension. We got it already.

              but think people who have less than 100k in assets are pitiable fat slobs.

              I didn't say, nor do I think, that they're fat slobs. Rather, I, myself, just wouldn't go around bragging about "making $300K" by losing my home to a bank as a shrewd business decision, and it sounds like the kind of decision that really poor people make. I don't know anyone who walked away from a mortgage, nor do I know anyone with a mortgage that small.

              Well, I know a few people with home values that small: old people who still live back where I grew up. Still, I'm not aware of any of them walking away from a home over $100K.

              But, hey: if you need to maximize your hurt feelings, I'll try really hard to feel ashamed.


              Didn't work.

              I just think I understand why you want the government to take care of poor people. It's nothing to be ashamed of. And, if you are ashamed, look at your own philosophy that defines the whole reason for government to exist to take care of poor people. If me spouting socialist platitudes about the poor who can't take care of themselves makes you feel offended, then you have a problem with socialism, not me.

              1. Yeah, right... You got pissed, called me a loser because I don't have as much money as you and in doing so revealed what you think about poor people. And now your trying to walk it back. It's ok... I recognize sophistry.

                When did I ever say anything about being ashamed to say that the government should help the poor. I'm a socialist, brian, a libertarian one, but a socialist first-and foremost. I think societies work better with cradle-to-grave welfare, public ally financed education and healthcare, high union representation, high minimum wages, and generous leave and vacation packages for its proletariat. Why would I be ashamed to say I 'm for public support for the poor and aged. It's not paternalism, just a philosophy of how things work best. I think I 'be got the data on my side

              2. Here's your quote... Not the one you linked to. Even your libertarian ally thought you were being an ass.

                "Actually, I know that $100 thousand and $200 thousand seems like a lot of money to you, but I don't find that very impressive. Having a net worth of -$100 thousand, or having trouble with a $100 debt on a mortgage sounds like the kind of problem that poor people have, people so poor that I don't think I know anyone like that."

                Go ahead, walk it back .

                1. american socialist|5.30.14 @ 9:03PM|#
                  "Here's your quote... Not the one you linked to."

                  Hoping he doesn't check back in, ignorant asshole?

                  1. Oh no... It's ok. I got what he meant. How's life?

                2. Oh, I stand by that. I don't know anybody who has a $100K mortgage problem.

                  Can you show me where I got "angry" and called you a "loser"?

                  american socialist:

                  When did I ever say anything about being ashamed to say that the government should help the poor?

                  Basically, here:

                  Brian: People like you need help, with your poverty and the debts that you poor people get yourselves into, that you can never pay off. That's what financial and mortgage relief are for: people who need the government to take care of them, because they can't do it alone.

                  We're all in this together.

                  american socialist: "We're all in this together."

                  I get it... You have contempt for poor people.

                  So, please explain how this isn't paternalism:

                  Why would I be ashamed to say I 'm for public support for the poor and aged. It's not paternalism, just a philosophy of how things work best.

                  Why does everything work best when there's public support for the poor and aged? That's just question begging. The answer is obvious: the poor and the aged need public support. Just like I said.

                  Somehow, when I say it, it's condescending.

                  I'll try really, really hard to act ashamed...

                  Didn't work again. Darn.

                3. american socialist:

                  Even your libertarian ally thought you were being an ass.

                  Show me in that quote where I called you a loser. All I said was that you sound like you have poor people problems: losing your house to a bank over $100K. Most people can pay of a $100K mortgage on $50K a year, the average salary in the US.

                  Yeah, Free Society thought I was sneering at poor people.

                  Then he went on to say:

                  Of the people who are poor, many many of them are poor by choice, or by consequence of the sum of their poor choices. A very very small amount of those in poverty in the US, are there by no fault of their own.

                  Generalizing and baselessly assuming is what socialists do, my friend. Don't accept and reinforce their premises.

                  So even he gets it: talking about poor people the way socialist do is "sneering" and "condescension". The problem is, he didn't understand that the socialist part was being sarcastic.I already told you, I get it: talking about the poor to socialists in particular, the way they talk about the poor in general, is insulting and condescending. Again, that's a problem with socialism, not me.

            2. american socialist|5.30.14 @ 5:55PM|#
              "I'm for universal health care-- preferably funded by a "condescending asshole" tax on people who have lots of money in the bank"

              I'll go for it as long as it's funded by asshole ignoramuses, regardless if it takes their last penny, asshole ignoramus.

    3. What?

    4. Yes, the best free market plan is that people without health care insurance should just have the good manners to die.

      Showing his utter ignorance about the large percentage of American healthcare that is provided by charitable non-profits.

      Also ignoring the fact that Americans who do, in fact, have coverage but seek care through a government-run system (the VA) have been dying on wait lists.

      1. Charity is your solution to health care access? Do go on.

        1. I suppose you think organized theft from others is a far superior solution?

          You know, there are really only three ways to get something in this world: Produce/trade for it, steal it, or beg it. And the last two are not options at all without someone doing the first.

    5. Insanely fucking stupid rears it's ugly head again...who'da thunk it.

      1. Referring of course to asS.

  12. If I were looking for a good way for the Repubs to throw away a wave election, I would be hard-pressed to beat:

    (1) Chasing a comprehensive immigration amnesty bill over the vociferous objections of their voters, and

    (2) Backing down on ObamaCare as it gets more and more unpopular and its utter failure becomes impossible to deny.

    Wave elections are about motivated voters. These two positions are guaranteed to suck the life out of the Republican base.

  13. Maybe Nigel Farage can come over here and run a week-long seminar for these dipsticks.

  14. "Yes, there are a handful of GOP-crafted alternative health policy proposals in the waiting,"

    But the don't include getting the government OUT of the health insurance/health care business and doing what it's supposed to be doing.... protecting our liberties.... hence my distain for the GOP.

  15. Scott Brown? Mitch McConnell? That's the basis for the piece? I didn't see Florida 13 mentioned anywhere. If I were still a Republican, Florida 13 would be my rallying cry straight through the election.

    1. The real reason Jolly won is because Sink came off as a smug liberal elitist that the majority of the 65 and older voters found repulsive. First hand knowledge since I live in the district.

  16. They've conceived, now should they abort this unwanted pregnancy? What chance does this unwanted law have growing up in a bankrupted bureaucracy, with no hope of support or a bright future?

  17. So, Peter, I know you are all about the polls when its negative about Obamacare, so I guess that's why you did not want to speak about the most recent Kaiser poll:

    51% are tired of members of Congress talking about the law and want them to focus on something else- probably applies to writers on blogs as well. And for Independents? Only 44% think its important for Congress to keep speaking about it, 50% want them to move on.

    And once again, given the clear choice as to working on improving Obamacare, OR repealing it and replacing it, 59% want to improve it and only 34% want a repeal and replace. And for the important Independents with that option? Its 58% to 33%.

    Really, its time to find another dead horse to beat.

  18. Repeal the mandate. Anything less is unacceptable.

    1. Yes, because the right has always been against concepts of "skin in the game" and "responsibility" and always loved programs that give you stuff for free!

      You couldn't make up this stuff. Thanks for your help with my imagination.

  19. Unfortunately I think republicans love campaigning against the law but have little stomach for the actual political battle for repeal. That explains Romney in the last election, a politician that never backed off his support of an individual mandate. If he was elected I suspect he would have negotiated a few "bi-partisan" changes and the mandate would have remained intact.

    When will the people wake up. Gary Johnson was an excellent candidate, successful in business and a very successful 2 term governor.

  20. The free market healthcare system:

    Get the federal government completely out of the healthcare business.

    Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare and VA hospitals should be abolished.

    People under these programs should be given a yearly amount that they could use to purchase health insurance.

    Allow people to purchase insurance from any state.
    Deregulate state health insurance markets.
    Unhinge medical insurance from employers in the tax code.

    Getting government out and increasing competition in this way will lower healthcare costs. It cuts the bureaucracy costs, cuts the fraud costs and improves competition and quality of care.

  21. Not only are they abandoning opposition, but some are getting ready to take CREDIT for it.


    Ole Mitch Mc - the senior statesman to Rand Paul in KY, is ready for a big meal at "waffle" house! Imagine this coming from a GOP leader:
    "His campaign added that Kynect creates a "marketplace of private insurance plans" and states like Utah and Massachusetts had established similar systems before Obamacare became law in 2010."

    Now, I don't think this needs translation for the smart people here - but basically it says "Yes, what they did in Liberal MA - and what the ACA was patterned after (same consultants and setup) is OK because it was done before KY did it!"

    Wow, hard to imagine they are rolling over so quickly, but it's true. As I say many a time - rhetoric and opposition are cheap. What you actually do when you need to take responsibility is another thing!

    Give it a month or two. Rand Paul will be waffling if he's already not. Then again, he has a 6 year term and may not care what KY residents think.....maybe he's take the easy road and be against it.

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