Following Obamacare’s bumpy rollout, the GOP expected to campaign on a platform of repeal, repeal, repeal. However, as Americans have come to embrace much of the Affordable Care Act in substance, if not yet in name, campaigning on all out repeal has lost its luster. Prominent Republicans cannot fully acknowledge that repealing the law in its entirety at risk of failing the Tea Party’s ideological litmus test, but some are grudgingly coming to terms with the reality of its permanence. Case in point: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In a speech at CPAC back in March, the Kentucky Republican trumpeted his intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act “root and branch.” These days he’s whistling a different tune. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, McConnell backpedaled:
“Well, it would take 60 votes in the Senate. No one thinks we’re going to have 60 Republicans… And it would take a Presidential signature. No one thinks we’re going to get that.”
The Senate Minority Leader, along with a growing number of moderate Republicans, has quietly come to accept that a complete repeal of Obamacare is virtually out of the question. With 20 million Americans covered under the Affordable Care Act, the “damage,” as the GOP elites see it, is already done. Discontinuing the core elements of Obamacare would entail disrupting health insurance for millions of Americans. Republicans with some grip on reality realize that the best they can hope for is chipping away at Obamacare gradually. Locked in a close Senate race with Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell himself has tacitly acknowledged that Kynect, the Kentucky health insurance exchange established under Obamacare, is a success. In light of these realities, McConnell’s ambitions to completely repeal Obamacare have withered accordingly. As McConnell put it to Cavuto:
“Well, I would like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the President’s desk and make him take real ownership of this highly destructive Obamacare, which has done so much damage to the country, the lost jobs, the higher premiums, the higher co-payments, the higher deductibles. Yes, we will be voting on that sort of thing. But he is the President of the United States until January of 2017, and people need to understand that that constrains our ability to do for this law what we’d like to do, which is to get rid of it.”
Without entirely abandoning the goal of total repeal, McConnell moved the goal post to 2017, at which point millions more Americans will be covered under Obamacare. The law’s benefits, already evident in many ways, will be even clearer by that time. Besides which, 2016 is expected to be a good year for Democrats; it is highly unlikely that the GOP will hold both houses of Congress, much less the presidency. McConnell’s statement is tantamount to admitting defeat when it comes to full repeal. Predictably, McConnell did not receive a standing ovation from his party. The Senate Conservatives Fund, an influential Super PAC founded by Tea Party Republican Jim DeMint, captured the sentiment of many conservatives, calling McConnell’s words a “surrender,” heaping scorn on the Minority Leader for his heresy:
“This is why so few people actually believe Mitch McConnell anymore. He makes conservative promises and then fails to follow through. He said he would rip Obamacare out “root and branch,” but has now flip-flopped days before the election and waved the white flag. If Mitch McConnell can’t figure out a legislative strategy to repeal Obamacare with a Senate majority, then maybe it’s time for him to step aside and let someone else with more parliamentary skills do the job. Republican voters expect Republicans in Washington to fully repeal Obamacare. This law is the biggest threat to our nation’s fiscal health and it’s time to repeal it and start over.”
Faced with such withering criticism, McConnell backtracked. Brian McGuire, his spokesman, stated: “Leader McConnell is and has always been committed to the full repeal of Obamacare.”
But the cat is already out of the bag. Make no mistake: the Affordable Care Act is in serious danger if the GOP seizes the Senate majority. But liberals can take some comfort in the fact that its basic components will remain intact. Unconvincing retractions notwithstanding, you can add Mitch McConnell to the growing list of Republicans who have accepted the inevitable.