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The Perils of Piece-By-Piece Obamacare Repeal, Cont.

1:01 PM, Jan 17, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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In the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Laffer writes, "There are...many truly bad provisions in...the president's health-care legislation that should and could be repealed. The Republicans should target these provisions for repeal and attach them to the bill to raise the debt ceiling." Laffer notes that if House Republicans were to pass such a bill, "it would also likely pass the Senate." He adds, "Who among the 21 Democrats and two independents whose terms are up in 2012 would vote against raising the debt ceiling, especially if the legislation also removed the least-popular features" of ObamaCare? And "Once passed by the full Congress, it's even less likely that Mr. Obama would veto it."

The Perils of Piece-By-Piece Obamacare Repeal, Cont.

Laffer is right that the Democratic Senate would almost surely pass such a bill and that Obama would indeed sign it. In fact, I suspect that the president would be very, very glad to sign it -- and would probably let out a big exhale of relief shortly after doing so, unable to believe his good fortune. That's because, with all due respect to Mr. Laffer (and I am a fan), this would be about the best possible way for Republicans to undermine their own repeal efforts.

In truth, if the goal is to improve ObamaCare, to make it more popular, to make it somewhat bipartisan, and to cement it as a permanent feature of American life, then Laffer’s recommended course is exactly the right path to follow. If, however, the goal is to sink ObamaCare -- and thereby to save us from a massive consolidation of power in Washington; increased spending, deficits, and health costs; and inevitable government-mandated rationing of care to follow -- then Republicans need to be careful to avoid unwittingly joining the ranks of President Obama's most indispensable allies.

The choice is simple: Republicans can either pursue repeal, or they can try to take a singularly horrible piece of legislation that they had nothing to do with passing and which they now have a mandate to repeal, and try to make it somewhat less horrible. They can't do both at once. Each approach undermines the other. You don't try to repeal something that you think can be salvaged and which you’re actively working to improve. And you don't try to salvage and actively work to improve something that you're determined to scrap.

Laffer also mentions the possibility of targeting "truly bad provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law" and attaching the repeal of these to the bill that would raise the debt ceiling. That sounds sensible. Republicans could also demand spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. That’s unobjectionable. But effectively saying to President Obama, "We'll only raise the debt ceiling if you’ll agree to improve ObamaCare and make it more bipartisan and popular," is hardly driving a hard bargain.

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