Do Republicans need a Plan B on ObamaCare?

Republicans are betting heavily that ObamaCare will fail. They haven't planned for the alternative possibility.

John Boehner
(Image credit: (Win McNamee/Getty Images))

For years, Republicans have trotted out the same message: ObamaCare is a massive disaster, and the public knows it. And when crashed out of the starting gate, that message proved quite resonant.

Yet as ObamaCare begins to turn the corner, Democrats are going back on the offensive, touting the law's benefits and successes in hopes of boosting support for it — and the party — ahead of the 2014 elections. Republicans, meanwhile, have so far stood by the same critiques, betting that the law will still be seen as a failure come Election Day.

Which raises a thorny question for the GOP: What if ObamaCare works?

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Undoubtedly, ObamaCare is now functioning better than it was in October. Though problems remain for the exchange site — the back end is still a mess, often sending bogus or incomplete information to insurers — enrollments are reportedly surging through both the federal and state-run marketplaces.

Good news in hand, the White House and congressional Democrats this week launched a campaign of daily pro-ObamaCare messaging to promote the law ahead of the December 23 enrollment deadline for coverage that kicks in January 1, 2014. Their goal is to present a "raw two-sided picture," according to Politico, with "Democrats delivering benefits on one side, and Republicans trying to deny them on the other."

"My main message today is: We're not going back," Obama declared in a reboot speech Tuesday.

If ObamaCare keeps improving, the GOP's "we told you ObamaCare was a mess" pitch could quickly wear thin. And if it does, Republicans will find themselves in need of a new argument or a legislative alternative.

So far, they don't really have either.

On the messaging front, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday repeated boilerplate GOP criticisms that the law is "fundamentally flawed," and that it "continues to wreak havoc on American families, small businesses, and our economy." Other GOP leaders similarly contended that the law is still a problem-plagued failure.

That the message hasn't changed despite ObamaCare's turnaround proves that "Republican complaints of two months ago were purely opportunistic," wrote Jamelle Bouie over at the Daily Beast.

"For them, it just doesn't matter if is working, since ObamaCare is destined to fail, reality be damned!" he added. "At most, the broken website was useful fodder for attacks on the administration. Now that it's made progress, the GOP will revert to its usual declarations that the Affordable Care Act is a hopeless disaster."

The GOP has also yet to offer a credible legislative alternative to ObamaCare. Though there are several Republican bills that would reform the health-care system, they're generally considered suspect, and none have consensus support within the GOP. Boehner on Tuesday tellingly dodged a question about whether he would even bring up such a bill up for a vote, saying only, "We'll see."

Polls have shown that while voters aren't too keen on the health-care law, they're willing to give it a chance. Indeed, the first few months of ObamaCare's disastrous rollout could be a distant memory once coverage and benefits kick in next year.

Which points to another problem for Republicans: Their anti-ObamaCare crusade will be tough to sustain once people begin to see the law's benefits in action. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum sussed out that point, writing, "Once the benefits of a new program start flowing, it's very, very hard to turn them off."

By the middle of 2014, ObamaCare is going to have a huge client base; it will be working pretty well; and it will be increasingly obvious that the disaster scenarios have been overblown....

Given all this, it's hard to see ObamaCare being a huge campaign winner. For that, you need people with grievances, and the GOP is unlikely to find them in large enough numbers. The currently covered will stay covered. Doctors and hospitals will be treating more patients. ObamaCare's taxes don't touch anyone with an income less than $200,000. Aside from the Tea Partiers who object on the usual abstract grounds that ObamaCare is a liberty-crushing Stalinesque takeover of the medical industry, it's going to be hard to gin up a huge amount of opposition. [Mother Jones]

Republicans have so far committed themselves to staunchly opposing ObamaCare no matter what, even producing a playbook for attacking the law from here to November 2014. But if ObamaCare continues to improve, the GOP might need to draw up a new play — or risk getting burned at the polls.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.