Confident about the upcoming election, and afraid they’d fumble a handoff, House Republicans have apparently decided to take a knee until voters cast their ballots. But this timid run-out-the-clock mentality has the potential to hurt the party in both the short term and the long run.
In the short term—as any football fan can attest—prematurely abandoning the offense surely increases the chance of one’s opponent getting back into the game. In the long run, the House’s refusal to do much of anything adds to the perception of the GOP as the “party of no.”
There’s an alternative: Run some plays. Be the party of action, the party of a reform-minded conservatism that works to set limits on government again, the party of everyday Americans who are the ongoing victims of the Big Government-Big Business alliance, the party that stands up for Main Street, the rule of law, and the Constitution.
Here’s one play that should be pretty simple to execute: Stop Obamacare’s imminent bailout of the president’s insurance-company allies. Rather than doing everything they can to keep taxpayers from being forced to cover insurance companies who lose money under Obamacare, and then shouting about it from the rooftops, House Republicans have chosen a different path. At least so far, they have not taken—or even scheduled—a vote on the issue.
And Republicans wonder why everyday Americans question whether the GOP really cares about people like them.
Targeting the bailout would be hugely popular. McLaughlin & Associates, in polling commissioned by the 2017 Project, asked likely voters, “If private insurance companies lose money selling health insurance under Obamacare, should taxpayers help cover their losses?” Respondents said no—by the overwhelming tally of 81 to 10 percent.
A vote on the bailout would also help keep the spotlight on Obamacare and hurt its chances of survival. Insurers have been willing to play ball with Obama, pricing their Obamacare exchange policies at lower levels than they otherwise would have, thereby boosting enrollment. The House Oversight Committee recently surveyed insurers and found that 12 of 15 expect to get bailed out this year, to the tune of about $1 billion. Without that safety net, woven and hung at taxpayer expense, insurers would have to price their exchange policies more honestly, as they readily admit. This would hurt Obamacare exchange enrollment and make it easier to repeal the disastrous overhaul and replace it with a genuine alternative.
Blocking the bailout would strike a blow against cronyism and corporate welfare. The House Oversight Committee has obtained emails revealing the cozy alliance between the Obama White House and insurance companies. Chris Jennings, Obama’s deputy assistant for health policy, coached Florida Blue Cross and Blue Shield CEO Patrick Geraghty in advance of his appearances on the CBS Evening News and Meet the Press last fall, and then emailed Geraghty afterward to exclaim, “Pat: You were extraordinary. . . . We were all impressed. Thank you so much! Would like to talk soon.”
When Obama put himself above the law and decreed that insurance policies Obamacare had banned were hereby un-banned, his insurance allies weren’t happy. Their main lobbying group—America’s Health Insurance Plans—wrote to the administration, “Risk corridors should be operated without the constraint of budget neutrality.” The risk corridors are the part of Obamacare that will provide the bailout, and operating them “without the constraint of budget neutrality” means using them to funnel taxpayer money to insurers.
Around that same time, Valerie Jarrett emailed CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Chet Burrell, reassuring him that “the policy team is aggressively pursuing options” to address insurers’ concerns. Soon after, the Obama administration announced, in regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, that the risk corridors would indeed provide a bailout as necessary: “In the unlikely event of a shortfall for the 2015 program year, HHS recognizes that the Affordable Care Act requires the Secretary to make full payments to issuers.” In other words, Obama is using the risk corridors as a slush fund to pay off his insurance allies at taxpayer expense, and House Republicans have yet to vote to stop him.
Fighting the bailout—whether by repealing the risk corridors or requiring them to be budget-neutral—would help rebut one of the few remaining weapons in the Democrats’ arsenal as they try to defend Obamacare. When Republicans attack Obama’s wildly unpopular overhaul of American medicine, a favorite Democratic counterattack is to say that the GOP just wants to put insurers back in charge of health care. It would be hard for that accusation to stick if Republicans made it clear that they stand on the side of John Q. Taxpayer against the Big Insurance lobby. Republicans’ failure to vote against the bailout makes the Democrats’ charge seem more plausible.
And going after the bailout would strike a blow for the rule of law—not only because Obama has used the bailout program as a slush fund to keep his insurance allies quiet when his lawlessness has hurt them, but also because Obama has decided he can appropriate money for the bailout without the aid of Congress. A vote to stop the bailout would be a vote to stop Obama’s unconstitutional power grab.
Doing something that’s anti-Obamacare, anti-cronyism, pro-rule-of-law, politically savvy, and inordinately popular should appeal to Republicans. But in lieu of voting to block the bailout, they’ve offered up various unconvincing excuses for their failure to do so.
Republicans worry that stopping the bailout would raise premiums in the Obamacare exchanges. If so, that would merely prove that insurers were pricing their exchange policies at artificially low levels, counting on a bailout at taxpayer expense. Are Republicans really afraid of being accused of saving taxpayers money in this way? Republicans worry they’ll be accused of hypocrisy for supporting the Medicare Part D risk corridors and opposing Obamacare’s. But Part D’s risk corridors didn’t function as a bailout—they didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Republicans worry that insurers won’t like them if they block the bailout. But are Republicans really more concerned about protecting corporate welfare for insurers than the hard-earned money of taxpayers?
Finally, Republicans worry that Obamacare-supporting Democrats might also vote to end the bailout and thereby give themselves a political edge. But this has the political calculation almost exactly backward. Casting one anti-Obamacare vote isn’t about to save Democrats from a prior vote for Obamacare itself, or from their ongoing support of their party’s signature legislation. For Obamacare-supporting Senate candidates, this issue is particularly toxic. Even if they’re willing to break with the administration and denounce the bailout, they would be wide open to GOP counterattacks: Hey, you finally admitted there are problems with the health care overhaul you helped pass. But the bailout—and the rest of Obamacare—won’t be stopped so long as Harry Reid controls the Senate, and a vote for you is a vote for Reid.
Instead of needlessly worrying, Republicans should confidently vote to end Obamacare’s taxpayer-funded bailout of insurance companies and thereby give Americans a clearer sense of what GOP members stand for. It’s fine—classy even—to take a knee with 30 seconds left and the game well in hand. But when there’s still plenty of time left to play, sometimes it’s better to stop overthinking, run the ball off-tackle, and gain all the yardage you can. Doing so might make it look like you really want—and deserve—to win.