Can Obamacare be killed?

Can an entitlement program be killed? That seems to me the question implicit in the unfolding drama over the repeal of Obamacare.

With their majorities in Congress and Obama in the White House, Democrats forced the passage of Obamacare without a single Republican vote. The party discipline they displayed was impressive to observe. In the style of the Roman captives paying their respects to the emperor Claudius, the Democrats who were about to die — die their political deaths — saluted their leader.

Obama, let us recall, had promised that he would save those who were about to die by following his lead. He would invest his personal popularity in their reelection. Obama may have believed his own baloney, but I don’t think anyone else did. He could no more save their political lives than he could slow the rise of the ocean or heal the planet. Those of us paying attention understood from early on that, among many other things, Obama was a false messiah.

Republicans have run against Obamacare in every election since its enactment. They passed repeal bills secure in the knowledge that Obama would veto them.

Now with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a Republican in the White House, repeal is back on the table. Yet the delivery of repeal either by bullet train or slow boat to China seems — what’s the word? — unlikely. We are about to see. The failure to deliver something like repeal would be worse than an embarrassment. It would be a disgrace.

Has an entitlement program ever been killed? Readers with a long memory may recall the case of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 does not really fit the bill. James Antle cites the act as the last time health care was repealed, but it’s not exactly an inspirational example.

The New York Times observed at the time: “The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the average Medicare beneficiary would pay the Government $145 this year [1989] for benefits available on the market for $62.” Even so, one post-mortem observed: “A retrenchment of this magnitude is unprecedented in postwar social welfare policy.” To borrow a notion from the space program, I should like to think that failure is not an option on this mission, but we are flying blind.

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