When Iowa reporters asked Sen. Chuck Grassley on Wednesday about the attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, his answer was remarkable and revealing.
“You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” the Iowa Republican said. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”
So. Huge points to Grassley for honesty there. And, he’s right.
To be fair, this is far from the first time a party has tried to jam something through without knowing all the consequences – as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said about Obamacare in 2010, “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
But the simple fact is that Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place here.
The rock is the seven years of near-constant campaign promises that the first thing they would do if given full power in Washington is repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans won control of the House in 2010 – and gained seats in 2014 – almost entirely on that message.
To not make good on the promise – with total control of Washington and no one to blame – would be, in the minds of many Republican elected officials, a complete betrayal of their base, with potentially disastrous consequences on the ballot next fall.
The hard place is the fact that the legislation sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana is being moved rapidly through the legislative process because of a drop-dead deadline of the end of the month. That means that it isn’t going through anything close to regular order – up to and including the fact that the Congressional Budget Office won’t score the bill – for costs etc. – before the Senate needs to vote.
Grassley spokesman Michael Zona explained his boss’s choice of words: “It’s remarkable and unfortunate that it’s newsworthy that a senator believes in keeping his promises,” Zona told CNN.
“Obamacare is failing to deliver, as Democrats’ recent embrace of single-payer makes clear,” he added. “As with anything that is a product of compromise, no bill is perfect, but Graham-Cassidy begins to move health care decisions out of Washington and empower states like Iowa to deliver better health care options. It also helps put federal programs like Medicaid on a sustainable path so that they’re available for the next generation of Iowans who need them.”
There’s also lots of polling evidence to suggest that people simply do not want Obamacare to be repealed and replaced. In August, six in 10 people said it was a “good thing” that Senate Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A similar number (57%) said they wanted Republicans to work with Democrats to make the ACA better.
They may not love the Affordable Care Act but it is a benefit they have grown used to. When you take away a benefit, people get angry. And when people get angry, they vote.
Want a visual on just how hard that hard place is? Try this map on for size:
That’s the political dilemma Republicans face. Choose not to repeal and replace Obamacare and face the potential wrath of your base. Choose to repeal and replace Obamacare and run the risk of facing a slew of horror stories about people who lost or couldn’t afford their coverage – not to mention the fact that people, judging by the polls, do not want this law radically altered.
There is no good answer here. And yet, Republicans have backed themselves into a corner due to their rhetoric surrounding the bill over the past seven years. To do nothing is unacceptable. And to do something is unacceptable. The only good choice is not to choose. And when you are an elected official, you don’t get that choice.
Remember, always, the words of John Boehner on health care.
“Now, they’re never — they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Boehner said in February. “It’s been around too long. And the American people have gotten accustomed to it. Governors have gotten accustomed to this Medicaid expansion, and so trying to pull it back is really not going to work.”