Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Averting Catastrophe: How to Pass It

All, right, so substantively, I would favor restoring Obamacare subsidies permanently in exchange for (say) repeal of the employer mandate and medical equipment tax, or a temporary extension to give Republicans time to come up with something better.  But politically, how do you get it to pass?

Personally, I would recommend something like the following:  Representatives of Obama and the Republican leadership in the Senate and House meet in maximum secrecy and work out a deal. Republican leaders call a press conference to announce it.  Obama denounces it as an intolerable outrage and vows to fight it at all costs.  He rallies liberal activists (some in on the joke, most not) to lobby against it.  Tea Party leaders are definitely not in on the joke, but do figure out that any system that keeps the subsidies flowing will, in fact, keep Obamacare alive.  Most people, however, don't much care about the details so long as millions are kept from losing their health insurance.  Moderate Democrats and Republicans join ranks to pass the measure.  Seeing no alternative, Obama "capitulates" and signs the thing.  Liberal activists grumble, but eventually figure out that they got most of what they wanted.  Moderate Democrats are just relieved the whole thing is over.  Moderate Republicans rejoice over their procedural victory, but eventually figure out that it was a substantive defeat.  The Tea Party says, "I told you so."

If that calls for too many conspirators keeping quiet to be workable, we can always go with our old standby.  Republicans pass a purely symbolic, meaningless repeal in the House.  Maybe Democrats filibuster it in the Senate.  Maybe they let it pass so Obama can veto it and denounce it as an attempt to strip even more people of their health insurance.  Maybe Senate Republicans figure out that responding to eight million people losing their health insurance by passing legislation to take insurance from even more is really bad politics and let the thing drop.  Someone in the Senate comes up with a reasonable compromise that either temporarily extends the subsidies or permanently extends them in exchange for something else.  Ted Cruz denounces it as the end of all liberty and little short of a Communist dictatorship.  But Obamacare advocates keep parading stories of cancer patients having their health insurance yanked and Obama makes speeches about how this can be resolved with a one-line bill fixing a typo.  Enough Senate Republicans defect to pass the measure.

In the House, the Tea Parties vows that they will allow the measure to pass when you pry their cold, dead fingers from the trigger.  John Boehner says it would be political suicide to introduce the measure.  But the pressure is building.  Republicans are caught between demands to make no compromises with the devil and pleas to restore people's insurance.  Eventually, enough defect that Boehner can introduce the measure pass it with mostly Democratic votes.  This one really might cost him his speakership.

But in the end, the Republicans may learn the hard way that stripping millions of their health insurance is a very poor hill to die on.  And restoring it just might we worth the sacrifice.

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