Politics is a poker game — no matter how bad the other guy’s hand might be, you can’t beat something with nothing.
So let’s review the hands Republicans and Democrats are playing on ObamaCare.
At the moment, Republicans in Congress are looking at their cards and smiling.
Yes, the president is certain to veto the bill. But a veto will allow Republicans to denounce Obama as an arrogant man turning his back on the will of the Congress. They’ll say his only concern is a selfish defense of his top domestic legislative achievement.
The GOP is also happy that the bill to cripple ObamaCare defunds Planned Parenthood. Again, the GOP likes its cards. The president will be forced to defend abortion rights, once more allowing Republicans to protest his defiance of the will of the majority in Congress.
Then it will be time for the GOP to lay down its winning cards, to show what its members are holding to beat the president’s hand.
If the GOP is serious, the party will lay down a better healthcare plan. It will have to help more people than the 17 million who have gained insurance under ObamaCare, including 1 million new customers since Nov. 1 of this year. The GOP will also have to do a better job of reining in the greedy insurance companies. And it will have to demonstrate that its plan does more to hold down the nation’s healthcare costs.
This is where the Republican house of cards collapses. It is all a bluff.
They don’t have any such plan, or anything even resembling it. Facing a fight to retain control of the Senate — and to win a presidential race — the GOP’s candidates are in an impossibly difficult position on healthcare. They will be denying healthcare to millions while offering nothing but trash talk about Obama’s generally successful plan.
The best argument that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate Democrats dig in as shutdown approaches Overnight Healthcare: Burwell huddles with Dems on fighting ObamaCare repeal Reid: Bring back the earmarks MORE (R-Ky.) can muster is that ending ObamaCare would force the president to “work toward a new beginning and better health care.”
The Republican repeal ends the requirement for everyone to buy health insurance. No employers would face penalties if they did not offer health insurance to workers. Plans to expand Medicaid to cover poor people without health insurance would die in two years.
And what would replace all that gets bulldozed?
Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Healthcare: Burwell huddles with Dems on fighting ObamaCare repeal Reid: Bring back the earmarks Ryan: GOP won’t ‘pull the rug out’ from 'Dreamers' MORE (R-Wis.), the new Speaker of the House, has said the GOP will handle that problem next year. While his party has no alternative at the moment, he said, the “problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of ObamaCare.”
This is the same “urgent” problem that led former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), then the GOP whip, to declare before ObamaCare was passed in 2010 that Republicans were on the brink of laying out a “leadership-backed alternative.”
We are still waiting.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Cantor’s successor as whip, sang the same song in 2014 when he told reporters the GOP was “trying to get it all together” to agree on a soon-to-be announced alternative to ObamaCare.
Earlier this year, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told Fox News that any substitute plan would not come before 2017 because there are too many competing ideas in Congress and conservative think tanks.
Burr said he favored tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private plans. Beyond that, he also wants to do away with mandates to buy insurance. Yet he requires insurance companies to deal with pre-existing medical problems.
How is that better than ObamaCare?
Ryan, weighing in earlier this year before he became Speaker, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal with Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) promising an “off-ramp from ObamaCare.” They wrote about putting “high-quality, affordable coverage within closer reach for all.” That March pledge remains unfulfilled.
Any plan the Republicans come up with will have to compete with ObamaCare’s five-year run of success in reducing the number of uninsured Americans from 41.8 million in 2013 to 33 million in 2014.
In addition, ObamaCare’s subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance have proven to be less expensive than once predicted, as has the price of insurance itself. And the Supreme Court has now ruled repeatedly that the law is constitutional.
There is concern that the price of insurance could rise next year and some of the newly insured complain about high deductibles. That could drive down the number of people who enroll. But with more employers saying they will keep their insurance coverage for workers, the total reduction in the uninsured still surpasses initial government projections.
The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that more Americans have been able to get a primary care doctor since the start of ObamaCare. And the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported no increase in people forced into part-time jobs and no drop in labor force participation because of ObamaCare. In addition, people gaining health coverage with ObamaCare have reported they are generally satisfied with the plan.
First, the GOP bet on the Supreme Court overturning the healthcare bill and lost.
Now they are left holding an empty hand.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.