Wednesday evening’s Fox News Special Report featured the following exchange between Bret Baier and House Speaker John Boehner:
Baier: “You know, Scott Pelley, with CBS, asked you and Senator McConnell about a Republican alternative to Obamacare. You said you didn’t have one. Will you by the end of this Congress?”
Boehner: “There are three committee chairmen that have the jurisdiction over the health care policy in our country. And those three chairmen are working together to craft what we believe would be a better approach with regard to health care for the American people than Obamacare.”
Baier: “So there will be one alternative?”
Boehner: “There — there will be an — there will be an alternative, and you’ll get to see it.”
This is welcome news. However, we won’t have to wait until the end of this Congress to test Republicans’ seriousness — for the true test will be whether they’ll prepare an alternative in time for the Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell. If the Supreme Court rules that President Obama has been lawlessly paying out subsidies in the 36 states with federal exchanges (at taxpayer expense), Republicans will either be ready with a GOP alternative that would effectively repeal and replace Obamacare in those 36 states (and in any of the other 14 that want to jump ship), or else they will start expanding Obamacare at the state level while negotiating “fixes” to it at the federal level. The former scenario (effective repeal and replace) is an inviting one; the latter (expanded and “fixed” Obamacare) would be a disaster.
A GOP alternative that would effectively repeal and replace Obamacare in 36 states need not be a complete alternative — it could be a circumscribed one — but to be meaningful and politically potent, it cannot merely punt the matter to the states on the federal taxpayers’ dime. Rather, it will have to deal with the tax treatment of health insurance. For 70 years, those who have gotten health insurance through their employer have gotten a substantial tax break, while those who have bought it on their own through the individual market (because their employer didn’t offer it) have not. Obamacare doesn’t lower anyone’s taxes — and hence didn’t fix this inequality in the tax code — but a GOP alternative could. A very simple tax credit that’s entirely flat apart from having three basic age bands — and which would go to everyone who buys health insurance in the individual market — would do the trick.
Such a tax credit, in connection with wiping out all of Obamacare’s insurance requirements, would provide relief for those who lost their Obamacare subsidies. Just as important, it would also provide a tax cut for millions of Main Street taxpayers who get nothing out of Obamacare except for inflated health costs and diminished liberty. Hence, it would be a very potent political offering — one that would put the country on track for full repeal and replacement in 2017.
Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda, including a winning conservative alternative to Obamacare.