by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Trump has tasked three Republican senators with coming up with a replacement for Obamacare if courts strike it down. It’s a prudent contingency plan. Republicans should, for that matter, advance their own health-care plan even if the lawsuit fails — as it is highly likely to do, in part because it lacks legal merit.
Republican senators are not notably eager to take up this assignment; their leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that the Senate will wait for the White House and the Democrats to reach a deal before it tackles health care. Republican strategists say the senators are right: Why put forward a plan and open Republicans to attack over it, when the party can concentrate instead on making the case against Democratic proposals to kick Americans off their health insurance and move toward a government monopoly? Why should Republicans reprise the experience of 2017–18, when they bled public support while trying to pass a health-care bill, spent the next election on the defensive on the issue, and then lost dozens of House seats?
A flaw in this cynical calculation is that Republicans cannot prevent Democrats from attacking them over health care by abandoning the issue; if that strategy worked, the 2018 elections would have gone very differently. Most of the Republicans who will be running for office in 2020 have already gone on record wanting to replace Obamacare. The Republican administration is urging its abolition in court. Democrats already have enough warrant to accuse Republicans of seeking to eliminate a health law on which many millions of Americans rely. Republicans can choose whether to respond to that attack by pointing to their own plan, or by letting Democrats devise a caricatured conservative plan to tie to them.