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ObamaCare: Repeal, Replace, Rinse, Repeat

With the passage of national health insurance reform, a remarkable phenomena has been observed in Washington: liberal pundits, prognosticators, and politicians all seem more than eager to offer the GOP some helpful advice on how to win in November.

It warms the cockles of my heart to see this spirit of bipartisanship displayed so selflessly and with such touching concern for their opponents’ well-being. Think of it: just a few hours ago, these same hell-bent-for-leather, rabid partisans were flinging hateful epithets at Republicans, calling them racists, saying they were on the “wrong side of history,” referring to them as “obstructionists,” “radical,” and — perish the thought — “anti-government.”

And now?

The louder Republicans yell, the more they will be characterized and caricatured as sore losers infuriated by the first major delivery of candidate Obama’s promise of “change.” The focus on the weekend’s alleged racial and gay-bashing verbal attacks by opponents of the Democrats’ plan should be a caution to Republican strategists trying to figure out how to manage the media this year.

Thank you, Mark Halperin, for generously sharing your thoughts and advice. No doubt Time magazine (and the rest of the media) will eagerly caricature the infuriated losers, as you brag about earlier in the piece when you warn Republicans of what’s coming and invite the Democrats to make common cause with the press:

Well, get ready, Republicans, for déjà vu all over again. The coverage through November likely will highlight the most extreme attacks on the president and his law and spotlight stories of real Americans whose lives have been improved by access to health care (pushed, no doubt, by Democrats from every competitive congressional district and state).

And then there’s this helpful bit of dispensed wisdom from some very smart fellow who works for one of those liberal think tanks:

“Republicans appear to believe that obstructing any aspect of the president’s health reform agenda will pay electoral dividends,” says Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “They may well be deluding themselves.”

Considering the fact that Democrats have deluded themselves into believing that ObamaCare is the nirvana all Americans have been pining for, it would be impolite not to join them in their self-deception.

This, the GOP has apparently taken to heart with talk of repealing ObamaCare. While an excellent idea with much merit, the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing this mirage are insurmountable. Consider:

1. In order to make repeal a reality, the GOP would have to win back both houses of Congress with considerable room to spare, capturing 2/3 of the seats in each chamber. This is because unless Barack Obama has a “road to Damascus” moment about liberty, the Constitution, the free market, and first principles, it is more than likely he will veto said repeal legislation just as quickly as they can load the teleprompter with his remarks on how he is saving “the children.”

2. An alternative to repeal, one that would have the same effect, would be to defund the measure by repealing parts of the bill. This path has the virtue of not needing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, because the tax credits and Medicaid expansion could be dealt with through the reconciliation process. Before getting too excited, you might want to think of the effect of cutting off subsidies to millions of poor people who have insurance only because the government pays for it. Making yourself an easy target for liberal demonizing is not a sound political strategy.

3. I hate bringing up history at a time like this, but no entitlement program once enacted has ever been repealed. “There’s a first time for everything” might be a tempting battle cry to employ, until you realize that the reason history is not on our side is because constituencies rapidly grow up around entitlements, making them as politically indestructible as the pyramids. The yowls of pain from beneficiaries of any entitlement that is under threat of major overhaul or repeal resonate with that significant portion of the electorate who gets all weepy at the thought of any American suffering for any reason. It is a major source of our strength as a nation — and it might be the death of us in the end.

If straight out repeal is a non-starter, there are two more profitable veins to mine for bringing down ObamaCare. The first attack will be in the courts, led apparently by state attorneys general, who are suing in federal court over the individual mandate for almost every American to purchase insurance. But even if successful, there are workarounds for the Democrats that would keep ObamaCare in business.

If the Democrats had used the “deem and pass” strategy in the House, a challenge could have been made to the entire bill. But realistically, even if most legal challenges were successful — a very doubtful proposition given the history of the Supreme Court — great swaths of ObamaCare will still be on the books, wreaking havoc.

How then to proceed? It is a sad fact that repeal of ObamaCare will be a long, laborious process that is going to take at least two and perhaps three election cycles to achieve. The Republicans must win the kinds of majorities enjoyed today by the Democrats at the ballot box, while electing a president willing to sign a repeal measure in 2012. That’s a tall order. And simply running on a platform of straight repeal may not turn the trick. By 2014, the aforementioned ObamaCare constituencies will be stubbornly entrenched with millions of people benefiting from some of its provisions.

It will be a delicate operation — requiring a scalpel, not a meat cleaver — to repeal ObamaCare. Representative Paul Ryan has what will probably be the Republicans’ ultimate strategy going into the 2010 midterms and beyond:

“Obviously we’re not for keeping this law,” he continued. “We should repeal it and replace it with reform … but not just to go back to the status quo that we knew yesterday. That wasn’t sustainable, either. We’ve been saying all along we want to fix what’s broken in healthcare without breaking what’s working in healthcare. So repeal and replace it with something better.”

Still to be determined is what constitutes “something better.” From what we know of previously introduced GOP-sponsored health care legislation, the kind of “reform” that Ryan is thinking about would deal with those who have chronic conditions and are unable to purchase affordable health insurance, as well as a large portion of the uninsured being covered. There would almost certainly be Medicare reform as well.

The virtue of this approach is that you co-opt the opposition of a large number of ObamaCare beneficiaries by not taking away their coverage, while tossing most of the government health care monstrosity into the dustbin of history. “Repeal and replace” would be more attractive, at least as a political strategy, than outright repeal. And given the long-term nature of the battle ahead, it might be the only viable road to follow.

But all of this might be a chimera, a fantasy born of desperation. The legal challenges may very well fail. There is the possibility that ObamaCare will become more popular than is presently contemplated and that a call for repeal will not resonate with the electorate the way it does today. There is a chance that Obama will be reelected, and that by 2016, the political landscape will have shifted dramatically away from repeal.

There are many electoral and legal scenarios that would give the GOP a partial victory in getting rid of some of the beast, but leave most of it intact. That’s why I have a rather sad and morbid prediction:

In five years, the GOP will have embraced ObamaCare and be running on a platform that boasts how much more efficiently they can manage it.