Opinion

The big lesson from 2014: ObamaCare's political future is secure

If Republicans repeal the law and snatch insurance from millions, it would be a huge scandal. Perhaps it's best to forget all about it.

Despite the fact that this election cycle is more boring than any since at least 2002, there are some real stakes. Republicans look likely to take narrow control of the Senate, since they are ahead in most of the close races, helped along by a massive flood of late outside money and shameful terror baiting over the murder of American journalist James Foley.

Of course, regardless of who wins, President Obama will remain in the White House, an insurmountable obstacle to any serious Republican program until at least 2016. But hanging over the party's future is what it is going to do about ObamaCare. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, said at a debate earlier this week that ObamaCare is the "worst piece of legislation in half a century" and that it should be pulled out "root and branch."

There's just one problem with this idea, and you can see it in this map (courtesy of Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.):

It turns out that ObamaCare — particularly the Medicaid expansion portion — has worked out quite well for Kentucky. Uninsurance rates are down in every single county. Repealing ObamaCare "root and branch" would take insurance from the roughly 400,000 people who have been newly insured in the state. When Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell's opponent in the upcoming election, pressed him on this point, he tried to split the difference, saying, "I think it's fine to have a website."

As Danny Vinik of The New Republic immediately pointed out, this is a totally duplicitous position. The whole structure of ObamaCare depends on large federal subsidies and programs. Without the federal support, the state exchanges would be little more than empty shells.

But the simple fact that Kentucky's Kynect exchange is part of ObamaCare has been persistently obscured in the Kentucky race for idiosyncratic reasons. McConnell doesn't want to mention it, because Kynect is very popular and he wants to pretend like he can repeal ObamaCare without snatching coverage from nearly half a million people. Grimes doesn't want to mention it, because President Obama and ObamaCare brand are very unpopular in Kentucky.

That muddled state of affairs would come crashing down the moment an actual repeal was passed. Literally millions of newly insured people would have (often desperately needed) coverage yanked from their hands, and Republicans do not have even a scrap of a replacement plan. It would be a crushing political scandal.

Therefore, it seems quite likely that if Republicans take power in 2016, they will conveniently forget all about repealing ObamaCare, or perhaps repeal a few token provisions, declare victory, and move on to cutting taxes on the rich.

Now, it would be extremely foolish for Democrats to bank on this happening. Clearly, winning elections should take precedence. But Republicans' ability to deceive themselves is practically without limit. Some conservatives are now asserting, for instance, that Bush never sold the 2003 Iraq invasion with claims that Saddam Hussein had active WMD programs. With that level of ability to rewrite very recent history, papering over the existence of a historic social insurance expansion should be no trouble at all.

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