Last week, I wrote, Chait Is Wrong — We should Fear King v Burwell. This was in reference to a Jonathan Chait article, Why the New Lawsuit Won’t Kill Obamacare. And then, as usual when Chait is pushing a controversial idea, he quickly came back with an “I’m right!” article, Republicans Realize Obamacare Lawsuit Would Destroy Them, Not Obamacare. Despite everything, I enjoy reading Chait. But I can’t do it without a lot of loud sighs. How many Republicans realize Obamacare would destroy them? Well, Chait only mentions two. And that’s one short for a standard college essay.
What’s more, one of his examples argued that the Republicans should create a temporary change until they could “repeal and replace” the law. Given that the Republicans have come up with precisely zero alternatives to Obamacare, I think we can count that Republican in the pro-King v Burwell camp. So really Chait only has one Republican who is concerned. But it doesn’t really matter. He could come up with a dozen Republicans who are concerned about this case succeeding. It wouldn’t mean anything. There are always Republicans around who think that the party ought to be a tad less crazy. Just ask Josh Barro.
The problem is that it is hard for the Republican Party to back away from its opposition to Obamacare when they’ve spent the last six years telling their base that it is worse than a Soviet takeover of the government. And what about the “death panels” that so many conservatives still believe in? Ben Sasse might be right in his OpEd, “Chemotherapy turned off for perhaps 12,000 people, dialysis going dark for 10,000. The horror stories will be real. What will happen next is predictable: A deluge of attacks on Republicans for supposedly having caused this.” What is this compared to the millions that the Republican base thinks Obamacare is actively killing? There are lots of things that many in the Republicans establishment would like to move on. But we don’t see much of that.
There is also just the politics of it. At the end of 2013, the Republicans shut down the government. The people didn’t like that. But did they come to the polls in 2014 and vote the fools out? No! They voted more of them in! (One was Ben Sasse.) It would be the same thing here. The people who died for lack of dialysis would be in the distant political past. And let’s not forget: if 11.5 million people lost their health insurance, it would really harm the economy. And that would happen just in time for the 2016 presidential election. King v Burwell may well be the Republicans’ best chance to take the White House in 2016.
Michael Hiltzik has a more nuanced take on the situation, Is GOP Finally Getting Nervous That the Supreme Court Might Gut Obamacare? He is certainly correct that we aren’t hearing Republicans crowing about the law as we were a couple of months ago. I think that they realize not that the law will be bad for them but rather that it is like Pandora’s box: it is going to make the situation unpredictable. And that is bad because the up side is nothing compared to the down side. (Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say; but that’s the way human psychology works.)
I actually think that the Republican Party itself is pretty much done with Obamacare anyway. They had their chance in 2012 with NFIB v Sebelius and they lost. The law is now in place. People have it. But much more important to Republicans, the healthcare and insurance industries are fully vested in the new system. It wouldn’t just be a big hassle to change, it would also rip billions of dollars in profit away from these industries. So I don’t think they like the double bind that King v Burwell would put them in. Does this mean that the bozos on the bench will get the message and decide to kill the challenge? I will believe that when I hear Rush Limbaugh talking about how bad this case will be for the Republican Party.
The bottom line is that we want King v Burwell to fail. Under the best of circumstances (the Chait case), it would cause a lot of harm to innocent Americans. And in the end, politics is about people. I care about good things happening a hell of a lot more than I care about winning an election. (And that is probably a big reason why I’m not a politician!)