John Boehner (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

GOP's burgeoning dissension: Conservatives won't let party leaders go soft on Obamacare

House GOP may want a cease-fire, and the country is ready to move on -- but the right is as angry as ever

Simon Maloy
May 30, 2014 8:07PM (UTC)

For years now, the dynamic has been unchanged. Ask the Republicans what they want to do about Obamacare and they’ll say, “Repeal Obamacare!” Ask the Republicans what they plan to put in Obamacare’s place and they’ll say, “Repeal Obamacare!”

Ever since the “repeal and replace” mantra took hold, the House Republican leadership has searched high and low for a replacement healthcare plan that is sufficiently conservative and won’t result in massive coverage losses, and they’ve consistently come up empty-handed. The reason for this is that any plan that retains Obamacare’s coverage levels would necessarily resemble Obamacare. The mounting successes of the Affordable Care Act put the leadership in an even worse bind – even if they had a plan, “repeal and replace” would necessarily introduce huge amounts of uncertainty just as people were gaining coverage under the law. So earlier this month, the House leadership let Obamacare recede as an issue, training their fire on Benghazi and other scandals instead.


However, House conservatives who cannot abide Obamacare’s continued existence aren’t going quietly, and are trying to force an end to the cease-fire. Members of the hard-line conservative Republican Study Committee are putting pressure on John Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership to repeal Obamacare (again) and bring the RSC’s replacement health reform bill up for a vote.

The RSC’s bill – a mishmash of long-standing GOP health reform proposals – wouldn’t come anywhere close to covering as many people as the Affordable Care Act. Bringing it up for a vote would leave the GOP open to political attacks: They’d be eliminating Obamacare’s more popular features and endorsing a less-comprehensive replacement.

But RSC chair Steve Scalise, R-La., is feeling a sense of urgency. “The American people can’t afford to wait any longer for Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Scalise said, according to Politico. “The time is now to bring an Obamacare replacement bill to the House floor that lowers costs and puts patients back in charge of their health care decisions.”


Scalise’s sense of the public mood notwithstanding, Americans are actually pretty comfortable with not repealing and replacing Obamacare. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s May tracking poll finds that just 34 percent of the public backs repeal, while the vast majority favors keeping the law in place and making some fixes.

As the chart above shows, the ardor for repeal is primarily a Republican phenomenon. While that’s to be expected, what’s interesting is that the people who back “repeal and replace” tend to realize that right now there is no replacement. “Even among those who favor the repeal and replace option, just two in ten (20 percent) believe Republicans have settled on an alternative,” the Kaiser poll write-up notes.

And while Republicans are as eager as ever to burn Obamacare to the ground, everyone else is getting kind of sick of hearing about it. “About half of registered voters (51 percent) say they are tired of hearing candidates for Congress talk about the health care law and want them to focus more on other issues like jobs,” per Kaiser’s findings.


Thus, the House GOP leadership is in a bit of a bind. They backed off Obamacare as an issue because the law is starting to work, and now the country is showing signs of wanting to move on. But three-plus years of promising the demise of Obamacare can’t just be wiped away; the base is as committed to repeal as ever, and the rank-and-file have a terrible replacement plan that they feel deserves a vote.

By ignoring the RSC, they risk angering conservatives who were promised that a Republican alternative was forthcoming. By bringing the RSC plan up for a vote, they invite attacks on themselves and put unwanted pressure on Republican candidates in contested races who are also backing away from Obamacare. It’s an awkward spot to be in for a party that was once going to ride Obamacare repeal to victory in November.


Simon Maloy

MORE FROM Simon MaloyFOLLOW SimonMaloy

Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •