Democrats Health Care Strategy: Break It and Force Republicans to Buy It

Repeal and replace has long been the Republican slogan on health care. It played a large part in the GOP’s ascendancy to a House majority, then a Senate majority, and now, the presidency. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are now looking for a slogan of their own and, according to the Washington Post, seem to have settled on a version of the Pottery Barn rule:

Democrats have an emerging strategy to defend the Affordable Care Act from Republican assault, daring their opponents to defy the “Pottery Barn rule”: They’re about to break the health-care system, and that means they will own it.

The strategy has its roots in the mind of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is doing his best to wriggle the party free from the weight of Obamacare. If Republicans are willing to spend political capital fixing a broken health care market, he seems to be more than happy to let them try.”

“We’re not going to do a replacement,”Schumer said in December. “If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it. Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”

In many ways Sen. Schumer is an odd messenger. After all, he’s previously said that Democrats made a grave error by passing Obamacare.

“Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their healthcare,” Schumer said in 2014. “So when Democrats focused on healthcare, the average middle class person though, ‘the Democrats are not paying enough attention to me.”

If anything Mr. Schumer downplayed the anger. Obamacare didn’t leave the middle class feeling ignored, it left them feeling under attack. Insurance markets were collapsing, leading to fewer choices; insurance premiums were soaring, pushing people out of the insurance markets; and deductibles were sky high, leading people to wonder why they needed insurance in the first place.

So to hear him now argue that Republicans could own the problem, given that Obamacare has made the lives of many Americans markedly worse, seems odd. The fact is, Democrats broke the health insurance system. It’s now Republicans duty to try and fix it, lest the market continue to creep towards a death spiral of higher prices and higher numbers of uninsured.

“The law isn’t working. It is failing,” Speaker Paul Ryan said recently. “It’s nothing but a string of broken promises. Remember ‘If you like your plan, you can keep it,’ ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep it,’ ‘It’s going to lower costs’? It did none of those things.”

“We have to step in front of this chaos and provide relief for people.”

The media, abetted by Democrats, seem to believe that Republicans are doomed for not having coalesced around a single strategy for the “repeal” part of the “repeal and replace” strategy. But, as Peggy Noonan write in the Wall Street Journal, such myopia overlooks the last eight years of policy advances:

The suggestion is that disorder and disunity reign. This is the same media that all of seven weeks ago was assuring the GOP it needn’t even bother drawing up a bill, since President Hillary Clinton would veto any changes to ObamaCare.

True enough, eight years ago congressional Republicans were clueless about health-care policy. But a great deal has changed in that time—in ideas, education and the quality of the GOP caucus. Witness Rep. (and Dr.) Tom Price, the nominee to be the next secretary of health and human services, who offered in Congress his own detailed replacement plan.

Republicans already agree on the general contours of a free-market proposal—one based on tax credits, entitlement reform, freer insurance markets, portable policies and fewer mandates. The internal debates are over scope and details, not approach.

Granted, the details matter a great deal when it comes to the health insurance market. Then again, fixing the enormous pieces of the market that Democrats broke, also matters a great deal. The answer then is to get to work. And that’s not just a message for the GOP, it also applies to Sen. Schumer, who needs to spend less time hoping for Republicans to fail and more time working on a sustainable replacement for Obamacare.

Photo Credit: Greg Hauenstein. See more of his work HERE.