The conventional Beltway wisdom about Obamacare’s future is that it will be very difficult to repeal, even if the 2014 midterms end with the GOP still in control of the House and holding a majority in the Senate. This mindset is epitomized by David Frum, who recently concluded a blog post with the following admonition: “Repeal is a fantasy. Reform is the task ahead.” Like a lot of establishment journalists, Frum has a short memory. The repeal of the “Affordable Care Act” is by no means without precedent in recent congressional history. In fact, one need look no farther back than 1989 to find a corollary.
That was the year the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act (MCCA) was repealed. As the New York Times put it last Sunday, “[Some] involved with the passage and repeal of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act see clear parallels with the current situation, in which a very vocal segment that views itself as harmed by the new law has joined with highly organized political operations to rally opposition to it.” Only a year and a half after MCCA was passed and signed into law, “it was unceremoniously stricken from the books by lawmakers who could not see its demise come quickly enough.”
MCCA, which was ostensibly designed to improve acute care benefits for the elderly, was signed into law by President Reagan in 1988. It was the first attempt to significantly expand Medicare since that program had been inaugurated, but it soon ran into trouble when seniors realized it came with new taxes and premium increases. Sadly, just as they did with Obamacare, the D.C. politicians patronized the voters: The Democrat chairman of the Ways and Means Committee shouted, while fleeing from a group of angry seniors, “These people don’t understand what the government is trying to do for them.”
It’s true that Obamacare is a far more debilitating disease than MCCA and that it has been permitted to metastasize for three years. But Obamacare’s ill-effects on the body politic have also been far more pronounced than those of MCCA. It cost the Democrats their House majority in 2010—and 2014 approaches. The incompetent rollout of Healthcare.gov, combined with the millions of insurance cancellation letters that Americans are receiving across the country, has the Democrats so jumpy that last week’s House vote on the Republican “Keep Your Health Plan Act” peeled off no fewer than 39 Dem defectors.
Meanwhile, Obamacare continues to be the least popular entitlement in the history of Democrat vote-buying schemes. The electorate, never enthusiastic about the health care “reform” law, is less sanguine about the boondoggle than ever. Last week Rasmussen released a survey showing that a solid majority of likely voters favor repeal of the law: “A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 35% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe the trouble-plagued health care law is good for America. Fifty-five percent (55%) consider it bad for the country.” And these are likely voters.
This, of course, translates into bad news for Democrats as next year’s election looms. In the most recent Quinnipiac survey, the nine-point lead previously held by the Democrats in the generic congressional ballot is conspicuous by its absence: “Voters are divided 39 - 39 percent on whether they would vote for a Democrat or a Republican in their Congressional district, down from a 43 - 34 percent Democratic advantage in an October 1 Quinnipiac University poll. Independent voters shift from 32 percent for Democrats and 30 percent for Republicans October 1 to 37 - 26 percent Republican today.”
It is little wonder, then, that Republicans are feeling far more confident about their ability to hobble Obamacare than they were just a few weeks ago. Public outrage is mounting and, as the Weekly Standard reports, People like Rep. Tom Price of Georgia are predicting that Democrats in red states are going be getting a lot of pressure to work with the GOP on some sort of legislation to stave off Obamacare’s worst effects: “Our friends on the other side of the aisle are beginning to feel the heat, and the heat is only going to get hotter because of the disastrous consequences of this law for real people.”
Will the combination of public outrage and Democrat cowardice become so pronounced that Obamacare’s repeal becomes as inevitable as did that of MCCA? Probably not. On the other hand, as Jim Weidman puts it at the Foundry, “When ‘the law of the land’ doesn’t work for the people, the people—through their elected representatives—can change it. The ‘fix’ for Obamacare won’t come from tech gurus. It will come from the American people who want alternatives to government-run health care.” In other words, repeal of Obamacare may not be inevitable, but it certainly isn’t a fantasy.