Democrats: We Won’t Help GOP Replace Obamacare

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In Wednesday’s edition of his Washington Post column, The Plum Line, Greg Sargent related an interview with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in which Schumer said his caucus would rather let American health care burn to the ground than work with Republicans on an Obamacare replacement.

“We’re not going to do a replacement,” Schumer told Sargent. “If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it. Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half-baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”

The full details of the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have not been released, but the winds are currently blowing toward a repeal-first, replace-later strategy. Several leading Republicans have endorsed the strategy, which would see Obamacare officially repealed in early 2017, followed by a phaseout period that could last up to three years. With this approach, Republicans hope to force Democrats to the negotiating table with a hard deadline.

If there’s a flaw in this strategy, it’s that many economists warn that repeal legislation alone could be enough to send insurance companies running for the hills. If the major insurers pull out of the market ahead of 2020, it would mean the effective end of Obamacare and the end of insurance coverage for millions of Americans. If that happens, Schumer says, the Republicans will have to deal with the consequences themselves.

“They broke it, they own it,” Schumer said. “All the problems in the health care system that they blamed on Obamacare will now be in their laps. We’re going to make sure that we say things would have been a lot better, had they been thoughtful and careful and worked with us to fix Obamacare.”

President-elect Donald Trump, perhaps sensing the potential for disaster, has said he favors repealing and replacing Obamacare in one bill. That would give Democrats much more leverage at the outset, but it would also spread the weight of the replacement legislation across both parties. If everything works out, the GOP will still get to claim victory. If the new healthcare bill goes south, they can blame Democrats for whatever parts of it they forced the GOP to keep.

Why do the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, even need the Democrats to get on board? The theory is that some conservatives will refuse to vote for any healthcare law that continues to subsidize the insurance market with taxpayer dollars, thus forcing Mitch McConnell to grab Democrat votes to make up the difference.

The GOP leadership needs to be very, very smart in how they go about this. The potential pitfalls are everywhere, and the Democrats are as bloodthirsty as they’ve been in a long time. Republicans need to put on their salesmen hats and make sure they have the public behind them, which is something they’ve been really terrible at recently.

Thankfully, they will have an ally in the White House who happens to specialize in that very skill.