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Are Republican Governors as Committed to Repeal as the House?

2:00 PM, Mar 3, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Having utterly failed to convince the American people to embrace Obamacare, and facing a steadfast House of Representatives that has passed a bill to repeal Obamacare by a margin of 56 votes, the Obama administration — always probing for weakness — is now testing the resolve of Republican governors. So far, the verdict is mixed.

Are Republican Governors as Committed to Repeal as the House?

For months, the administration has been reaching out to GOP governors and trying to convince them to work with administration officials to implement Obamacare. Specifically, President Obama and Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius want states to implement Obamacare’s “exchanges,” the government-controlled points of access to health care that — if Obamacare isn’t repealed — would become essentially the only place where one could buy insurance that isn’t provided by an employer. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that a cool $1.0 trillion of Americans’ tax dollars would funnel into these exchanges, and thus to private insurance companies, during Obamacare’s real first dozen years (2014 to 2025).   

President Obama and Secretary Sebelius can’t implement these exchanges until 2014 (if Obama is reelected), but they’d like the states to move forward now. So they are offering the appearance of flexibility in the attempt to lure the governors into an unlikely alliance. If Republican governors take the bait, they will be helping to undermine the cause of repeal in three separate but interconnected ways: They will give the citizenry the impression that Republicans aren’t as determined to pursue repeal as Obama and the Democratic Congress were to impose this monstrosity; they will give Obama the chance to talk about how flexible and bipartisan 2,700 pages of mandates and regulations — passed without a single Republican vote — can be; and they will cause the Republican Party to acquire partial ownership of Obamacare.   

Sebelius, in particular, has been actively courting Republican governors. In mid-December, she wrote at healthcare.gov (just type “Obamacare” into a search engine, and a sponsored link to that site, paid for with your tax dollars, will come up) that HHS will “work” with states to “provide the support they need to help turn the health care law into a reality.” And she promised to grant states the “flexibility” to implement Obamacare “in the way that works best for them.”

This week, President Obama followed suit. Speaking to the National Governors Association in the White House State Dining Room, he endorsed a proposal that has been advanced by two Democratic senators and Republican senator Scott Brown, which would allow states to ask HHS for permission to opt out of various Obamacare mandates in 2014 rather than 2017. But the proposal is essentially meaningless, and the only real purpose it serves is to allow the administration to appear flexible while remaining recalcitrant. 

Needless to say, Obamacare wasn’t written in such a way that states could escape its grasp in 2017, and they wouldn’t be able to escape it any better in 2014. As former HHS secretary Mike Leavitt told the Washington Post, Obama essentially told the governors, “We'll give you permission to ask for permission sooner rather than later.” No governor would be given permission to pursue different goals than the administration’s — such as the goal of lowering health costs (by letting Americans have greater control over their own health-care dollars, spurring completion in the marketplace, and reining in trial lawyers), for example.

Indeed, seemingly in complete denial, Obama told the governors, “[T]he fact is, that the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] has done more to rein in rising costs, make sure everyone can buy insurance, and attack the federal deficit than we’ve seen in years. And that’s not just my opinion; that’s the opinion of the Congressional Budget Office.” 

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