Daniel Doherty

Andrew C. McCarthy has published a thoughtful and must-read editorial at National Review Online today concerning Obamacare. He argues that while the defund/delay strategy pushed by Senator Ted Cruz and others ultimately failed, the alternative approach, embraced by the GOP establishment, will also fail. In other words, repealing Obamacare through the legislative process (i.e., winning elections first and then fighting to dismantle the law) is simply not feasible in his view.

Here’s why:

To repeal Obamacare on the establishment plan, the GOP needs sudden and sustained electoral success — despite the high hurdle of media bias. At least two federal election cycles, and more likely three or more (i.e., at least four years, and probably six or more), will be necessary. Obama, after all, will still be president for three more years and will never sign a repeal bill. Even if a Republican wins the White House in 2016, and even if Republicans by then have held the House and won the Senate, the GOP will not have overwhelming congressional majorities.

Furthermore, unlike Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats are unified and disciplined. Knowing the press is the wind at their backs, they are disposed to use every parliamentary privilege available to a minority to obstruct a repeal of Obamacare. Remember, Democrats unilaterally enacted Obamacare at a time when it was very unpopular and seemed likely to cost them dearly at the ballot box. But they are influenced by movement progressives to a far greater degree than the Tea Party influences Republicans. So important was socialized medicine to the Left that Democrats rammed Obamacare through, regardless of the likely electoral consequences. They are going to fight repeal to the death.

These obstacles alone are enough to make “uphill” an understatement. But that’s not the half of it. To buy the GOP establishment’s “repeal by winning elections” alternative, you also have to believe that Republicans are going to repeal a vast entitlement that has, by then, been on the books, with millions of Americans drawing subsidies, for at least four, and more likely six or more, years.

That last point is an important one. Question: When was the last time members of Congress repealed a massive new entitlement program millions of Americans benefited from? I can’t think of a single example. Can you? The problem with Big Government, then, is that once these programs are on the books, scaling them back is a veritable Sisyphean task -- essentially impossible to accomplish. The whole idea behind defund/delay was to strip funding from Obamacare before the exchanges opened on October 1. This strategy, McCarthy argues, while unsuccessful, at least had a chance of success -- unlike, say, the alternative “plan” pushed by the Beltway establishment:

As I have argued before, I think defund/delay had a chance precisely because it was not repeal. The president was not being asked to erase what he sees as his signature achievement. Obamacare would have remained law. But it is a law that was already delayed a few years by design, so pushing for a delay for another year or two was hardly a pie-in-the-sky demand.

Significantly, Democrats were being asked to delay Obamacare under circumstances in which the program is undeniably not ready for implementation. The president could have been made to see that he could look reasonable by delaying and simultaneously mitigate what has been a disastrous rollout — “excruciatingly embarrassing,” as even Robert Gibbs put it.

Democrats were being asked to defund or delay Obamacare under circumstances in which Obama himself had already defunded and delayed major portions of it. The president could have been made to see that he was just being asked to do for everyone what he had already done for corporations, cronies, and Congress.

Contrary to what you’d believe from reading press accounts over the last two weeks, Obama has a history of reversing himself — to take just a few examples: on closing Guantanamo Bay, on a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on the Bush tax cuts, even on the near-term desirability of single-payer health insurance. It was never delusional to believe Obama and congressional Democrats could be persuaded that political expedience counseled what Obama has famously called “flexibility.” But you could not get there absent intense political pressure.

So in the end perhaps the “quixotic” effort to defund/delay Obamacare was not so quixotic after all. It had a real chance of working. But alas, the GOP coalition fell apart. Fractured and lacking true leadership, Republicans were unable to muster the requisite votes needed to make Reid, Pelosi and the White House negotiate.

Parting thought: Let’s say for the sake of argument that McCarthy is correct here: Repealing Obamacare via the legislative process is impossible. Question: What do we do now? The defund/delay approach failed. And it will probably fail again. So are conservatives supposed to re-embrace and re-litigate this flopped strategy again in January? Meanwhile, Americans are already starting to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges. What happens when millions of them are successfully signed up (although admittedly this could take some time due to all of the technical failures)? History, McCarthy argues, shows that once Americans receive an entitlement they are not willing to easily give it up.

In short, the path to repeal is unclear. It doesn’t help, either, that Congressional Republicans are divided, and can’t unite behind a single, coherent strategy. This makes the task of repealing Obamacare all the more difficult. Time is running out, my friends. What are Republicans going to do?

While you ponder that question, be sure to read McCarthy’s entire editorial here.

Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography