Tom Cotton sees through GOP wishful thinking on Obamacare replacement

Sen. Tom Cotton continues to speak more sensibly about Obamacare repeal than any legislator I knew of. Last week, he argued that the GOP is moving too fast on the matter. He stated, “I would much sooner get health care reform right than get it fast.”

Considering the stakes for the country and for the Republican Party’s future, it seems difficult to disagree this common sense proposition.

Today, Sen. Cotton offered further argumentation in support of not rushing — namely, this is probably the GOP’s only chance to pass significant health insurance reform. Disputing the notion that Obamacare replacement can be accomplished in their phases — initial repeal, Trump administration regulations, and comprehensive replacement legislation, Cotton told Hugh Hewitt:

Hugh, there is no three-phase process. There is no three-step plan. That is just political talk. It’s just politicians engaging in spin.

This is why. Step one is a bill that can pass with 51 votes in the Senate. That’s what we’re working on right now. Step two, as yet unwritten regulations by Tom Price, which is going to be subject to court challenge, and therefore, perhaps the whims of the most liberal judge in America.

But step three, some mythical legislation in the future that is going to garner Democratic support and help us get over 60 votes in the Senate. If we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn’t need three steps. We would just be doing that right now on this legislation altogether.

That’s why it’s so important that we get this legislation right, because there is no step three. And step two is not completely under our control.

I made basically the same argument here, predicting the following:

Republicans pass a “repeal” bill that doesn’t repeal the key Obamacare regulations. This “repeal” doesn’t make anyone happy. Republicans then propose true repeal. Democrats block it.

Republicans blame Democrats for their unwillingness to fix the mess. Democrats blame Republicans for creating the mess through the initial repeal.

Americans suffer. Americans take it out on Republican.

Allahpundit at Hot Air questions whether Democrats would really block thoroughgoing Obamacare replacement legislation once Obamacare has been repealed. He writes:

The GOP will sell step three [true replacement legislation] to the public as the linchpin of their strategy for lowering premiums: The more options you have in choosing a plan, the more likely it is you’ll find one at a price you’re comfortable with. What incentive does Manchin or McCaskill or Jon Tester or Heidi Heitkamp, etc, have to oppose a bill like that once the initial battle over O-Care has been lost?

The Republican gamble here is that red-state Democrats secretly do want to work with them to make health insurance better, if only to protect themselves in their 2018 elections. The politics make that impossible so long as ObamaCare is on the chopping block, but once it’s been chopped and the GOP moves on to secondary reforms of the market, there’ll be less pressure on them to toe the party line.

The incentive not to fix Obamacare is that the public will blame Republicans for unfixed Obamacare. Democrats will see unfixed Obamacare as sufficient to help them survive the 2018 election (in which the math is against them) and their ticket to winning the presidency in 2020.

The pressure on Red State Democrats to toe the party line will thus be enormous. It will be backed by the threat of primary challenges.

The Joe Manchins, Jon Testers, and Heidi Heitkamps can easily justify voting against Republican “step-three legislation.” They can identify objectionable features and argue that the GOP has already done enough damage with the “step-one” bill. Citing that damage, they can hope to ride a wave of discontent with the GOP to victory in 2018, and look forward to big success for the Party in 2020.

So I think Sen. Cotton is right. Republicans will probably get only one shot at Obamacare replacement legislation. If that shot misses the mark, the next shot will likely belong to the Democrats.

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