Jonathan Chait

The Pathology Of Repeal

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Yesterday I somewhat cynically suggested that Republicans were not interested in actually altering the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Today, Mitch McConnell says he's not interested in altering anything about the law:

Republicans aren't likely to bury the hatchet with President Obama over the healthcare reform act, their Senate leader said Friday. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), fresh off an unsuccessful vote on Wednesday to repeal healthcare reform, said not to expect Republicans to strike any agreements with the president. 

"I think it’s clear that this is an area upon which we are not likely to reach any agreements with the president," McConnell said on conservative pundit Laura Ingraham's radio show.

If this was a dispute about policy, of course, Republicans would be willing to pursue alterations. Democrats didn't like the Bush tax cuts, but if Bush had been willing to tighten up some tax loopholes, maybe lose the estate tax cuts, then they'd have been happy to entertain some alterations. While they may not have liked the law, they could surely imagine ways to improve it that could meet with bipartisan approval, especially given President Obama's professed willingness to negotiate changes. They could do so while still pursuing their preferred model of health care reform.

But the Affordable Care Act has become tot he right a symbolic totem that has little to do with actual policies. Its very existence is an enduring emotional wound. Greg Sargent writes:

Consider this article by the Post's Amy Goldstein, which quotes a range of Tea Partyers talking about the repeal of "Obamacare" in fervent and even messianic tones. They are prepared to invest years in realizing this goal. It's clear that for an untold number of base GOP voters, major questions about political and national identity are now bound up in repeal. An entire industry has been created around this new Holy Grail. There is now a big stake for a whole range of actors, some less reputable than others, in keeping millions of Americans emotionally invested in the idea that total repeal is not only achievable, but absolutely necessary to preserving their liberty and the future of the republic.

The GOP is operating not on the basis of some analysis of public policy but from a sheer pathology.

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