Responding to My Critics

11.05.12

Mitt Might Want to Repeal Obamacare, but He Can't

Kevin Drum, Andrew Sullivan, and Michael Tomasky have expressed their emphatic unconvincedness by my Mitt Romney endorsement.

Fortunately, none of them live in swing states, so at least I haven't done any harm.

I do want to clear up one false impression, though, caused by my failure to express myself clearly enough.

I wrote:

I don't want to see Obamacare repealed. I don't believe it will be, not even if the Republicans retake the Senate, which I don't expect either. Precisely since the universal healthcare law will remain in place, I want to see it implemented by people who see cost control as the first priority - who will grant maximum flexibility to the states - and who will recognize how dangerous it is to finance Obamacare with taxes only on the rich. A law of benefit to all should be paid for by all, for otherwise beneficiaries lose all concern for costs.

Andrew replied thus

And yet Romney has said it will be his first priority on Day One to end the program despised by every element of his far right party. He says this almost every day. David thinks Romney is cynical enough to make that clear, binding pledge day after day, ad after ad, and then instantly renege on it, even with a Republican majority in both Houses. Again, if David's right, Romney lacks the character to be president. If he's wrong, he's voting for the wrong presidential candidate.

Drum and Tomasky reacted in similar ways.

(Adam Serwer and Jamelle Bouie discuss the same argument at Bloggingheads)

To be clear: when I said that I doubted Obamacare would be repealed, I wasn't questioning that a President Romney would propose repeal. He will. His party will insist he do so; the House will vote to do so whether a President Romney asks them to or not; and by now, Romney surely believes he wants to.

So I am not suggesting that Romney will renege.

I am suggesting the following:

1) If Democrats hold the Senate, as they likely will, possibly with an increased majority, how does repeal become law?

2) Even if Democrats lose the Senate, what exactly does the repeal statute look like? Is it the 1-sentence law simply voiding the law? But such a law would have immediate impact on a lot of Republican constituencies. It would, for example, immediately raise prescription drug costs for many Medicare recipients. Don't the phones start ringing in congressional offices as seniors discover that fact? What about the 20-somethings on their parents' health insurance. How do they (and their parents) react when they learn they will lose their coverage? Angry, right?

Can and will congressional Republicans really muscle through that anger? Especially if they have dropped a half dozen or so House seats? Or will they begin to expand their 1-sentence law to start addressing voter concerns? As the law grows, it will rapidly bulk into a substantial health reform on its own. As it bulks, it will accumulate more and more opposition, not only among Democrats, but among Republicans too. The Republican party that failed to pass a healthcare reform in the eight years 2001-2009 is not ready to pass a healthcare reform in the first nine months of the next Congress. Yet that's what it must do if it is to repeal Obamacare while preserving Obamacare's most popular features. And that's what I doubt it will be able to do. The claim is not that Romney is lying to his supporters. The claim is that healthcare change is hard, and the repeal of Obamacare will be an especially complicated and dangerous change.